Persepolis vs Al-Nassr
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr head to the Azadi Stadium to take on Persepolis in their opening 2023/24 AFC Champions League Group E encounter.
As the two-time Champions League runners-up, Persepolis would normally be favorites against almost every Asian side, especially on home soil, but that’s not the case here. With Ronaldo and Sadio Mane rolling into Tehran, Persepolis’ formidable 14-game unbeaten streak in all competitions will be on the line (W12, D2 – 90 minutes only). Defensive resilience will be the Iranian side’s best hope of eking out a positive result here, and they boast aplenty. Indeed, you’d need to go back to March for the last time the ‘Red Army’ conceded more than once, doing so in a goal-glutted 3-2 away win over fierce domestic rivals Tractor. But Yahya Golmohammadi’s men have capitulated more than once per game in their last 14 competitive home outings, a run stretching back to January.
Star-studded Al-Nassr will put Persepolis’ defensive solidity to the test, just as they did in a come-from-behind 4-2 victory over Al Shabab Dubai in their Champions League qualification playoff tie. That success proved a turning point for Luis Castro’s side, as they’ve since won four Saudi Pro League matches on the bounce, having lost the opening two beforehand via an aggregate score of 4-1. But it’s not only about winning, the ‘Knights of Najd’ are firing on all cylinders, netting at least three goals in all four victories, including a 3-1 demolition of Al-Raed last time out. Particularly prolific before halftime, they have netted 2+ first-half goals in three of their last four matches, highlighting the potential for a ferocious start.