Ronaldo walks off to chants of ''Messi, Messi'', team loses Riyadh derby
Cristiano Ronaldo walked off the pitch to the joyful chants of Messi, Messi, Messi! it rang in the ears of delighted Al-Hilal fans who had just watched their Saudi Pro League team beat Portuguese superstar Al-Nassr 3-0 in the Riyadh Derby on Friday.
The five-time Ballon d'Or winner may have ended up with the losing team. Aleksandar Mitrovic scored twice after compatriot Sergej Milinkovic-Savic opened Al-Hilal, but Ronaldo still remains the center of attention in Saudi Arabian football despite the insults from opposition fans referring to his great rival of almost twenty year.
As thousands of cars drove east from central Riyadh to see the top two league teams and bitter local rivals face each other at the King Fahd International Stadium, the last to be played at the arena for three years as it becomes renovated to host matches During the 2027 Asian Cup and the expected 2034 World Cup, one Al-Nassr fan leaned over and shouted: Are you here to see Cristiano?
As Ronaldo warmed up, there were cheers from the thousands of away fans, many of whom wore the number 7 on their backs, and jeers from the crowds of home fans. But even in those hostile sections, parents pointed their sons and daughters to the 38-year-old football game.
Saudi football has not been the same since the former Real Madrid and Manchester United striker made a move last December. Even fans of Al-Hilal, the most successful club in Saudi Arabia and Asia, with 18 and four championships respectively, recognize what he did at Al-Nassr, which has nine domestic titles.
He has raised the level of all football here, Fahad Al-Qahtani, a 25-year-old resident of Riyadh, told the Associated Press. Al-Hilal will still be champions this season and we are still the biggest in Asia, but Ronaldo was great.
In the previous fourteen matches of the league season, Ronaldo had scored fifteen goals, topping the scoring charts and helping Al-Nassr to second place in the league, behind Al-Hilal. His teammates now include former Liverpool star Sadio Mane, Inter Milan's Marcelo Brozovic and Alex Telles, who joined from Manchester United.
Cristiano is an example for everyone, an example that Al-Nassr is happy with, said Al-Nassr coach Luis Castro. He is an example of accuracy, ambition and discipline. Many people want to be like Cristiano Ronaldo, but few want to work like Cristiano Ronaldo. If you want something, you have to give everything to get it.
Ronaldo tried everything on Friday. In the second half, with Al-Nassr trailing by a solitary goal, he fired a fierce volley high into the net, but it was marginally disallowed for offside. Shortly afterwards, he rolled on the floor of Al-Hilal's penalty area and claimed he had been elbowed. When Mitrovic scored his first and Al-Hilal's second late in the match, Ronaldo insisted he had been fouled in the build-up.
Hilal has his own superstar, but a less influential one at the moment because Neymar, who joined from Paris Saint-Germain in August, suffered a serious injury in October while on international duty with Brazil.
On social media, Neymar posted congratulatory messages to his teammates such as Mitrovic, midfielder Ruben Neves and defender Kalidou Koulibaly, who all arrived in the summer as highly rated English Premier League players. They joined several Saudi Arabian internationals in the team, such as Salem Al-Dawsari and Saleh Al-Shehri, who scored against Lionel Messi's Argentina in Saudi Arabia's famous 2-1 win at the 2022 World Cup.
The defeat in Friday's derby left Al-Nassr seven points behind leader Al-Hilal after fifteen rounds. Ronaldo may have his work cut out for him to help his team win title No. 10, but given his form so far this season, he can still have the last laugh as the Messi chants fade.
Ronaldo's day was further soured by news from the US that he was facing a class action lawsuit seeking at least $1 billion in damages for his role in promoting cryptocurrency-related non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, issued by the beleaguered cryptocurrency exchange Binance. .
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