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.
Victory came after the hosts had Milad Sarlak sent off for a second bookable offence seven minutes into the second half when the Iranian stepped on Ronaldo’s foot during a midfield tussle.
Ten minutes later the former Real Madrid striker released Marcelo Brozovic into the penalty area to unlock the stubborn hosts, with Abdulrahman Ghareeb scoring the opener through a deflected strike from the Croatian’s cutback.
Mohammed Qassem doubled Al-Nassr’s lead in the 72nd in the Group E encounter as he lashed his shot into the roof of Alireza Beiranvand’s net from a tight angle on the left to seal the win.
“It was a good game, even though the first half was a little bit difficult for both teams,” said Al-Nassr forward Sadio Mane.
“We played good in the second half, we created some chances and we scored two goals and I think we deserved to win tonight.”
The game was played in an empty Azadi Stadium as a ban imposed on Persepolis by the Asian Football Confederation two years ago was enforced, depriving thousands of fans who have followed Ronaldo since his arrival in Tehran from attending.
Al-Nassr’s win puts them on top of their group, two points ahead of Hernan Crespo-coached Al-Duhail after the Qatari club were held to a 0-0 draw by Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol in Dushanbe.
In Group A, Al Ain’s Togo international Kodjo Laba scored twice and set up his side’s third to lead them to a 3-0 win over Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor.
Al Ain are level on three points with Turkmenistan’s FC Ahal, who had Elman Tagayew’s long-range second-half strike to thank for a surprise 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia’s Al Fayha.