The game took a decisive turn when Milad Sarlak of Persepolis received a second yellow card, leading to his expulsion in the 52nd minute. The Iranian player had inadvertently stepped on Ronaldo’s foot during a midfield tussle.
Ronaldo, the former Real Madrid star, exploited the opportunity created by the sending-off. He set up Marcelo Brozovic, who unlocked the resilient hosts by releasing Abdulrahman Ghareeb, leading to the opening goal. Ghareeb’s strike took a deflection off Brozovic’s cutback, finding the back of the net.
In the 72nd minute of the Group E encounter, Mohammed Qassem doubled Al-Nassr’s lead by firing a powerful shot into the roof of Alireza Beiranvand’s net from a tight angle on the left.
Sadio Mane, Al-Nassr’s forward, commented on the match, saying, “It was a good game, even though the first half was a little bit difficult for both teams. We played good in the second half, we created some chances, and we scored two goals, and I think we deserved to win tonight.”
Notably, the game was played in an empty Azadi Stadium as the Asian Football Confederation’s two-year ban imposed on Persepolis was enforced, preventing thousands of fans who have been keenly following Ronaldo’s journey since his arrival in Tehran from attending.
Al-Nassr’s victory propelled them to the top of their group, holding a two-point lead over Al-Duhail, managed by Hernan Crespo, after the Qatari club played to a goalless draw against Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol in Dushanbe in Group E.
In another fixture, in Group A, Al Ain’s Togo international Kodjo Laba played a pivotal role as he scored twice and set up the third goal, leading his side to a convincing 3-0 win over Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor.
Laba opened the scoring in the 11th minute with a deft touch at the near post, connecting with Bandar Al Ahbabi’s cross from the right.
The Togolese striker was also involved in the second goal when a midfield mix-up allowed him to gain possession and provide the assist to Khalid Al Baloushi, who struck crisply into the corner.
With 65 minutes on the clock, Laba extended Al Ain’s lead by latching onto Park Yong-woo’s pass and delivering a powerful shot into the top corner.
Al Ain share three points with Turkmenistan’s FC Ahal, who secured a surprising 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia’s Al Fayha, thanks to Elman Tagayew’s long-range strike in the second half.
(With Reuters inputs)