It is looking increasingly likely that Cristiano Ronaldo is going to shoot Al-Nassr to the Roshn Super League title as the Portuguese star scored his second hat trick in three games as the league leaders defeated Damac 3-0 away from home on Saturday.
The 38-year-old has netted eight times in his last four games and, more importantly, the Riyadh giants are two points clear of Al-Ittihad at the top of the table. Ronaldo, and the team, are starting to look very ominous indeed.
Anderson Talisca, top scorer in the league and at Al-Nassr, was suspended and then injured, but with the team’s new signing in such form, the Brazilian has been barely missed. And there’s more. Ronaldo is not that far behind his teammate in the goal scoring charts. After just six appearances (and he did not find the net in his first two games), Ronaldo is, incredibly, joint fourth. Only Talisca, Carlos of Al-Shabab and Al-Ittihad's Abderrazak Hamdallah have found the target more times.
Damac may have shown over the last two seasons that they are a force to be reckoned with but lost the game in the space of five first-half minutes. After 18 minutes, Ronaldo fired home from the penalty spot. Sami Al-Najei blasted the ball goalwards only for the shot to be blocked by Farouk Chafai.
There were mass appeals for handball and while the referee did not initially give it, a look at the replay left little doubt that the defender had used an arm and there was little surprise when, after consulting the pitch-side monitor, the official gave a penalty.
Ronaldo sent Moustapha Zeghba the wrong way but even had the Algerian guessed right, there would have been little he could have done.
Al-Nassr kept coming and soon Ronaldo received the ball outside the area from Sultan Al-Ghamman and despite the attention of three defenders, fired home an unstoppable left-footed shot that fans of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Juventus would recognize. Once again Zeghba had no chance and over 13,000 fans in attendance could only be impressed.
The contest was over just before the break as the five-time Ballon d’Or winner got his third and it was a beautiful team goal. The lively Abdulrahman Ghareeb carried the ball out of defense, sprinted down the left to curl a perfect crossfield pass into the path of Ayman Yahya on the right side of the area. He laid the ball off and Ronaldo, charging in from the penalty spot, did the rest.
Damac had not conceded more than two goals in match all season but found themselves three down in the space of 45 minutes.
The second half was largely comfortable for the visitors. Damac pushed forward in a vain attempt to get back into the game but there was always a sense that had they grabbed a goal, then the visitors had an extra gear in reserve.
As it was, Al-Nassr had the opportunity to hit on the break and midway through the half, Ronaldo swept home from just inside the corner of the area but was ruled just offside. The decision was greeted with a philosophical shrug of the shoulders from a player who knows that he is going to continue scoring whether in this game or the ones to come.
So the game ended 3-0 and the week ended perfectly for Al-Nassr. Second-placed Al-Ittihad were held to a goalless draw by Al-Raed earlier in the week.
In terms of goal attempts, it was 17 to one in favor of the Tigers but, without the injured Hamdallah, they just could not find a way through and it was very much a case of two points dropped.
With the two other Riyadh title challengers, Al-Shabab and Al-Hilal, both busy with Asian Champions League commitments, Al-Nassr are sitting very pretty at the top of the table. With Ronaldo in such great form, and it bears repeating that he has now scored eight in four, they are going to take some stopping.