Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr made their numerical advantage count against 10-man Persepolis in Tehran’s empty Azadi Stadium on Tuesday as the Saudi Pro League side kicked off their Asian Champions League campaign with a 2-0 win over the Iranians.
Milad Sarlak was sent off for a second bookable offence seven minutes into the second half after stepping on Ronaldo’s foot during a midfield scuffle for the hosts.
Ten minutes later, the former Real Madrid striker played Marcelo Brozovic into the penalty box, allowing Abdulrahman Ghareeb to score with a deflected strike from the Croatian’s cutback.
In the 72nd minute of the Group E match, Mohammed Qassem increased Al-Nassr’s advantage by lashing his shot into the roof of Alireza Beiranvand’s net from a tight angle on the left to secure the win.
“It was a good game, even if the first half was difficult for both teams,” Al-Nassr forward Sadio Mane stated.
“In the second half, we played well, created some chances, and scored two goals, and I believe we deserved to win tonight.”
The game was played in an empty Azadi Stadium due to the Asian Football Confederation’s two-year ban on Persepolis, which prevented thousands of fans who had followed Ronaldo since his arrival in Tehran from attending.
Al-Nassr’s victory moves them to the top of their group, two points clear of Hernan Crespo’s Al-Duhail, who were held to a 0-0 tie by Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol in Dushanbe.
In Group A, Al Ain’s Togo international Kodjo Laba scored twice and set up his team’s third goal in a 3-0 win over Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan.
Al Ain took the lead in the 11th minute when Laba met Bandar Al Ahbabi’s right-wing cross at the near post with a clever touch that left keeper Sanjar Kuvvatov with little chance.
The 31-year-old was also involved in the second goal, taking advantage of a midfield mix-up to gain control and pass Khalid Al Baloushi, who shot the first time into the corner.
With 65 minutes remaining, Laba put the game out of reach after latching onto Park Yong-woo’s pass and steadiing himself to spear his shot into the top corner.
Al Ain are level on points with Turkmenistan’s FC Ahal, who beat Saudi Arabia’s Al Fayha 1-0 thanks to Elman Tagayew’s long-range second-half effort.