Ronaldo's penalty not enough as Nassr exits AFC Champions League

12 Mar 2024

Portuguese striker's last-minute penalty falls short as Al-Nassr bows out of the AFC Champions League after a penalty shootout, concluding a wild match with seven goals against Al-Ain.

Cristiano Ronaldo's late heroics couldn't prevent Al-Nassr's exit from the AFC Champions League, as they were knocked out by Al-Ain in a penalty shootout.

Match Report

Facing a 1-0 aggregate deficit and playing with the advantage of being at home, Al-Nassr was under pressure to come out strong in front of their expectant fans. However, a known adversary, Soufiane Rahimi, haunted the hosts in the first half by netting an impressive pair of goals, adding to his crucial strike from the first leg. With Al-Nassr trailing by three goals on aggregate just moments before halftime, their situation seemed dire. Yet, Abdulrahman Ghareeb's stoppage-time goal before the break breathed new life into Al-Nassr. The 26-year-old winger found the net from close range, following a play where Sadio Mane took advantage of some questionable choices by Al-Ain goalkeeper Khalid Eisa.

Optimism surged in the second half as Otavio equalized, making it 2-2. Once more, Eisa was culpable, inadvertently deflecting the ball into his own net from a challenging angle off the Portuguese's attempt. Al-Nassr intensified their efforts as the game neared its conclusion, missing a prime opportunity to take the lead sooner. Another blunder by Eisa presented the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo just yards from the goal, yet the Portuguese star uncharacteristically missed. However, relief came shortly after when a free-kick by Alex Telles, intended as a cross, ended up confusing Eisa, who failed to make a save, allowing Al-Nassr to edge ahead 3-2 and push the match into extra time.

The momentum shifted against the hosts when substitute Ayman Ahmed was shown a red card for a reckless tackle, a decision confirmed after a VAR check. Shortly after, Al-Ain found the back of the net again thanks to Al Shamsi, this time capitalizing on a mistake by Al-Nassr goalkeeper Raghed Najjar. Najjar mishandled a straightforward cross, knocking it against his own crossbar, and presented an easy finish for the incoming substitute. Yet, the dramatic match was far from over. Ronaldo managed to leave his mark by converting a penalty in the 118th minute, bringing the score to 4-3 for the night and taking the game to penalties. Despite this late effort, it was not enough, as Otavio's miss in the crucial penalty shootout saw Al-Ain advance with a 3-1 victory in the shootout.

Man of the Match MOTM

While Otavio's missed penalty was a turning point, the spotlight truly belonged to Rahimi throughout this encounter and the entire matchup. The Moroccan striker's crucial goal in the first match and his double in the return leg initially seemed to set Al-Ain on a smooth path to the semi-finals. However, mistakes by Eisa made the journey more challenging, as Rahimi's standout performance was almost negated by a spirited fightback from Al-Nassr. With Rahimi scoring eight goals in the tournament, just one shy of Ronaldo following the latter's late goal on Monday night, he has proven to be one of the most impressive players in this season's AFC Champions League.

The big losers

It was a night to forget for the goalkeepers. Ronaldo's glaring miss came after a glaring error by Eisa, who had a match he'd rather erase from memory for Al-Ain. He inexplicably charged out of his goal on Al-Nassr's first, disastrously mispositioning himself, and then disastrously redirected Otavio's off-target shot into his own net for an own goal. Eisa also failed to respond adequately to Telles' shot, which led to Al-Nassr's third goal, despite it being well-struck through a group of players. However, it was Najjar, Al-Nassr's goalkeeper, who ended up facing more dire consequences. Despite making several key saves during the game, he faltered when it mattered most. He misjudged a seemingly easy cross in extra time, leading to an unlucky bounce off the bar that set up Al Shamsi perfectly. It's a moment he'll want to forget, especially since he couldn't redeem himself during the penalty shootout.

What is next for Ronaldo and Al-Nassr

Following a closely fought match on Monday, Al-Ain narrowly advances, leaving Al-Nassr to face Al-Ahli Saudi in a Pro League fixture this Friday. Ronaldo's team finds themselves trailing leaders Al-Hilal by 12 points after 23 matches.

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