How Lionel Messi’s Former Teammate Ended Cristiano Ronaldo’s Champions League Dreams in Asia

How Lionel Messi’s Former Teammate Ended Cristiano Ronaldo’s Champions League Dreams in Asia

Godwin Nii Armah Tagoe
March 12, 2024 at 6:31 PM
In this article:
Cristiano Ronaldo logo
C. Ronaldo
Al Nassr FC logoFPortugal logo
H. Crespo
-FArgentina logo
Lionel Messi logo
Inter Miami CF logoFArgentina logo
Al Nassr FC logo
Al Nassr
Saudi Arabia
AFC Champions League logo
Al-Ain FC logo
Al-Ain FC
United Arab Emirates
United Arab Emirates Pro-League logo
UAE Pro League
United Arab Emirates
  • A former Argentine star crashed Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes
  • He was teammates with Ronaldo's archrivals, Lionel Messi
  • His side, Al Ain, edged Al Nassr in post-match penalties

The idea that great players don't always become great coaches is being challenged by the remarkable transition of an iconic Argentine footballer into a tactician.

Hernan Crespo. Does that name sound familiar? Certainly, the former AC Milan, Inter Milan and Chelsea striker is a household name for anyone who has closely followed football since the early 2000s.

Hernan Crespo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Al Ain, Al-Nassr, AFC Champions League.
Hernan Crespo engineered Al Ain's spectacular win over Al-Nassr during their AFC Champions League quarter-final clash. Photos by Daniel Garcia and Yasser Bakhsh.
Source: Getty Images

Hernan Crespo's playing days

A prolific striker, Crespo amassed an impressive tally of almost 250 club goals across his 19-year career, as cited by Transfermarkt.

On the international stage, he notched 35 goals, solidifying his status as Argentina's fourth-highest scorer, trailing only Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Batistuta, and Lionel Messi.

At the club level, the now 48-year-old made history as the world's most expensive player when Lazio secured his services from Parma in 2000 for a staggering €56 million (£35.5 million).

During the 2000–01 Serie A campaign, he clinched the top scorer accolade with 26 goals while representing Lazio.

How Crespo transitioned into coaching

Having hung up his boots, Crespo ventured into coaching in 2013, initially gaining experience with the youth team of Parma before eventually assuming a full managerial position at Serie B club Modena.

Despite encountering challenges and setbacks early in his coaching journey, the ex-Chelsea striker tasted success when he secured his maiden trophy with Brazilian outfit Sao Paulo in 2021.

His coaching prowess further shone at Al Duhail, where he clinched a domestic treble in the Qatari Stars League and steered the team to the semifinals of the AFC Champions League in his first season.

However, in October 2023, he parted ways with the club by mutual agreement.

At Al Ain

Not long after his departure from Duhail, Crespo took charge at Al Ain, according to AFC, revitalising the team and reinstating their status as a dominant force in the UAE while also making significant strides in Asia.

On March 11, he arguably achieved his most remarkable feat since assuming the coaching role of the Emirati club, guiding his team to victory over the star-studded Al-Nassr squad led by Cristiano Ronaldo.

How Crespo beat Ronaldo-led Al-Nassr

Given his background as a former striker, Crespo naturally instils a strong attacking mindset in his team.

Despite conceding possession to Al-Nassr in the first leg, his Emirati side created numerous scoring opportunities, particularly on the counterattack, and it was no surprise when they scored against the run of play through Soufiane Rahimi.

In the second leg, his team matched the Knights of Najd evenly, but defensive lapses and questionable goalkeeping proved costly.

However, their potent attack came to the rescue as Rahimi netted twice again, forcing the match into extra time.

They weathered Al-Nassr's pressure and capitalized on their chances, exemplified by their third goal scored by Sultan Al Shamsi, largely due to an error from Al-Nassr's goalkeeper.

Ultimately, Crespo's team prevailed as their penalty-takers found the mark, while three of Al-Nassr's missed theirs, with Ronaldo being the only one to convert, per the BBC.

Ronaldo breaks silence after Champions League heartbreak

Sports Brief also reported that Cristiano Ronaldo isn't allowing the loss to Al-Ain to dampen his spirits.

Despite the setback, the Portuguese star maintains a positive outlook, expressing confidence in Al-Nassr's ability to rebound and return stronger.

Although the Saudi team may feel disheartened by their elimination, Ronaldo believes they will regroup and rise above the defeat.

Godwin Nii Armah Tagoe photo
Godwin Nii Armah Tagoe
Godwin Nii Armah Tagoe is a Ligue 1, Bundesliga, and La Liga editor with five-year experience. He previously worked with Sports Corna and 360SportsGH.