Ronaldo's health issue forces postponement of friendlies
Published: Jan 23, 2024 10:51 PM
Cristiano Ronaldospeaks at a press briefing on January 23 held in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province.Photo: Lu Wenao/GT

Cristiano Ronaldospeaks at a press briefing on January 23 held in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province.Photo: Lu Wenao/GT

The highly anticipated Al Nassr friendlies in China have been postponed as the club's megastar Cristiano Ronaldo is not fit to make appearance in the matches against two Chinese clubs this week though the team has arrived in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province. 

"For me today is a sad day, I want to say sorry to the Chinese fans," the five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo told a press briefing on Tuesday night, after a day of speculation that the games will be canceled. "In football there are somethings you cannot control."

The Portuguese star's fitness is legendary in the sport, making him one of soccer's outstanding athletes.

Ronaldo said he feels China is his "second home" as he wishes to come back.

"I feel at home here. I feel this is my second home, not only because the welcome of the Chinese people, but the culture that you have for me. I felt that I'm always special here in this country."

"But we have to see this in a good way, we're not canceling the game. We're gonna postpone the game. We want to be back here to your country. We will be back."

Guido Fienga, CEO of Al Nassr, confirmed that the club will remain in Shenzhen to continue their preparation for the season rather than heading back to Saudi Arabia immediately.

"We came here in Shenzhen with a lot of respect for Chinese football fans, especially for the fans of Cristiano Ronaldo," he told reporters. 

"Taking these into consideration, in addition to the tight relationship between China and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we are willing to complete our training camp as planned in Shenzhen."

Al Nassr, originally to face Chinese Super League giants Shanghai Shenhua on Wednesday and Zhejiang FC on Sunday, were scheduled to have a training session at Shenzhen Universiade Center Stadium on Tuesday afternoon. 

The Shanghai team, which arrived in Shenzhen on Monday, canceled their planned press conference on Tuesday afternoon ahead of their training session in the stadium.

Al Nassr's planned friendlies are part of their preparations for a title bid in their domestic league. Their visit to China also comes at a time when China and Saudi Arabia are strengthening people-to-people exchanges.

Hundreds of fans were waiting throughout Tuesday at the entrance of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Shenzhen where the Saudi club is residing before their scheduled departure to the stadium, which has a capacity of 60,000.

The initial cancellation rumor has drawn ire from fans who paid for sky-high tickets and hotels,  many of whom have been arguing online calling for a refund. The organizers said the refund process for the postponement will be launched soon.

The organizer and Al Nassr will work on to schedule a new match date as soon as possible, the club said.

For those who wanted to watch a friendly game in person, they had to pay up to 4,580 yuan ($645) for a ticket. The tickets sold out shortly after they became available. 

Ronaldo's visit to Shenzhen had drawn massive online attention, a livestream of him challenging a Guinness World Record is scheduled for January 26.

Pop stars Zhang Yixing and Zhang Bichen were originally set to perform ahead of the matches on Wednesday and Sunday respectively, which also drew a large number of ticket buyers.

Ronaldo's last visit to China was in 2019, when he was representing Serie A giants Juventus in a pre-season friendly with Inter Milan.

In November, scheduled friendlies in Haikou, South China's Hainan Province, for Inter Miami, featuring soccer megastar Lionel Messi, were canceled "due to unforeseen circumstances." 

Many are calling January 23 a day of misery for Chinese soccer. In addition to the friendlies cancellations, the national team was eliminated from the AFC Asian Cup and Shenzhen's local soccer club disbanded.