Didier Drogba hails the development of Saudi football, movement of African players to the Kingdom

RIYADH: It may not have been the long-awaited Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi show, but Al-Nassr still delighted fans in Riyadh with a 6-0 thrashing of Inter Miami on Thursday.

Just two days after Saudi Arabia exited the Asian Cup, this was a magnificent advert for the Saudi Pro League with Anderson Talisca stepping up to score a hat-trick.

While Ronaldo had already been ruled out due to a calf injury, Messi was a surprise addition to the bench of the MLS team, with rumors suggesting that he felt discomfort after Monday’s 4-3 loss to Al-Hilal. He stayed seated until the final minutes but the damage had long been done.

Even if the Argentine maestro had been playing for the American club for the full 90, there was little he could have done to stop Al-Nassr as the Yellows were three goals to the good inside the first 12 minutes.

It made it even more impressive that Al-Nassr were not just without Ronaldo, but Sadio Mane as well, on Africa Cup of Nations duty with Senegal, as well as five Saudi Arabian internationals who have been at the Asian Cup.

The first goal arrived after only three minutes. Marcelo Brozovic found Otavio just inside the area and despite the presence of several pink shirts, the Portugal national team star cut inside and then unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top corner. 

Then it was the turn of Talisca, the Brazilian appearing at the far post to slide home a perfect low ball from teenager Abdulaziz Al-Elewai.

Ronaldo, high up in the stands of the Kingdom Arena, was on his feet full of smiles, a sharp contrast with Messi way down on the bench.

Yet even the former Barcelona star must have felt like applauding after 12 minutes as Aymeric Laporte scored a wonder goal that Miami owner David Beckham would also have been proud of.

As close to his own area as the halfway line, the former Manchester City defender lined up to take a free-kick. However, no one expected what was coming next as the Spanish star spotted Drake Callender off his line and fired the ball home from more than 50 meters.

Miami created little until after the 30-minute mark when Luis Suarez’s far-post volley was palmed away by David Ospina. The Colombian goalkeeper seemed to injure himself in the process and went off, the only blip on a perfect half of football.

Six minutes after the break Talisca scored from the spot after Mohammed Maran was brought down in the area. Then, midway through the half, Maran headed home a Brozovic corner.

Talisca got his hat-trick in style after 73 minutes, chesting down a long pass and then firing home first time from the edge of the area to make it 6-0.

Messi came on with eight minutes remaining but there was little he could do.

Al-Nassr simply blew Miami away and looked very good indeed. The rest of the season cannot come quickly enough on this sort of form.

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