Ronaldo rested as Al Nassr top Asian Champions League group

Ronaldo rested as Al Nassr top Asian Champions League group

Al Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo during the warm up before the match against Al Hilal on December 1, 2023. Photo: Reuters

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Al Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo during the warm up before the match against Al Hilal on December 1, 2023. Photo: Reuters

Al Nassr rested Cristiano Ronaldo and started the majority of their foreign contingent on the bench as they concluded the Asian Champions League group campaign with a 1-1 draw away to Istiklol on Tuesday night.

The Saudi Arabian side, looking to rebound from Friday’s Saudi Pro League defeat to arch-rivals Al Hilal, had already qualified for the knockout stages as Group E winners.

With progress secured with one matchday to spare, Nassr manager Luis Castro chose to leave Ronaldo out of the squad for the match in Dushanbe, while he named among his substitutes the likes of Sadio Mane, Aymeric Laporte, Otavio and Anderson Talisca.

Istiklol took the lead at the Pamir Stadium just after the half hour when midfielder Alisher Dzhalilov fired a fine low shot into the bottom corner.

The hosts, yet to win in this season’s competition, were hoping for three points to lift them off the bottom of the group.

However, Abdulrahman Ghareeb levelled five minutes into the second half, the Nassr winger converting a close-range volley at the second time of asking following an initial stop from Istiklol goalkeeper Rustam Yatimov.

Castro did send for Talisca, Nassr’s second-top scorer this season behind Ronaldo, in the 74th minute, and Ivory Coast midfielder Seko Fofana and Portugal winger Otavio late on but the visitors could not snatch the win.

Nassr ended the group stage unbeaten, with four victories and two draws.

In the group’s other match, Qatar’s Al Duhail put an end to Persepolis’ chances of qualifying by recording a 2-1 victory at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran – an encounter which stretched to a remarkable 107 minutes overall.

Michael Olunga scored the winner with seven minutes of normal time remaining, moments after Giorgi Gvelesiani missed a penalty for the home side.

The result did not impact the overall standings in the group, though, with two-time runners-up Persepolis finishing second and Duhail third.

The 10 group winners and the six best second-placed teams advance to the knockout rounds, with the East Asia side of the groups concluding next week.

The last 16 begins in February, while the competition concludes with a two-legged final in May.

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