How Cristiano Ronaldo broke the RSL scoring record

For a moment, the task looked impossible. The final whistle had gone at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium and Al Nassr were made to settle for a 2-2 draw against relegation strugglers Al Riyadh. Cristiano Ronaldo was unable to find the back of the net.

Thirty-three goals scored, two more left to break the record, but only 90 minutes left against 2022-23 Roshn Saudi League champions Al Ittihad to achieve it.

However, by the 70th minute on Monday night, as the 2023-24 RSL campaign came to a close, Al Nassr's iconic No.7 was walking off the pitch at Al Awwal Park with the league's single-season goals record in the bag. As he has shown for much of his legendary career, "impossible" is not a word Ronaldo has in his vocabulary.

Abderrazak Hamdallah’s record of 34 goals in the 2018-19 season is now history, ironically also achieved with Al Nassr, and history belonged to the modern game’s greatest goalscorer. "CR7" had racked up 35 goals in the 2023-24 RSL campaign.

The journey started what feels an eternity ago, at Al Ahsa on Matchweek 3. Ronaldo had missed the season opener against Steven Gerrard’s Al Ettifaq, rested following a trophy-winning turn at the summer's King Salman Club Cup, then made his first appearance of the RSL campaign in a lacklustre 2-0 home loss to Al Taawoun. 

Yet he exploded to life in his second outing against Al Fateh. A header from Sultan Al Ghannam’s cross opened the scoring, and a simple tap-in after Abdulrahman Ghareeb squared the ball to him made it two inside the hour. Before the final whistle could go, Ronaldo completed his first hat-trick of the season after a fine team move. His personal campaign had lift off.

Next up was a local derby against Al Shabab. Ronaldo was once more at his clinical best, converting twice from the penalty spot at Al Awwal Park. He had five goals already; the chase for the record was truly on.

Back on the road, this time at Al Hazem, the Al Nassr skipper was in a generous mood in Ar Rass. He provided assists for Ghareeb and Otavio before chipping in with a powerful strike from inside the area as Al Nassr marched to a 5-1 win.

In Matchweek 6, Al Raed were the victims of what proved to be one of Ronaldo’s finest goals of the season. Continuing his exploits in Al Qassim region, the Portuguese picked up Anderson Talisca’s pass, shifted it to his left while evading a defender, then drilled a fierce strike into the net for goal No.7. Given the shirt number he has made his own, it simply had to be a memorable one.

Typically a man for the big occasion, hosting Al Ahli was the perfect opportunity for the "GOAT" ("Greatest Of All Time") to showcase his talents. He needed less than four minutes to leave his mark on a classic RSL encounter with a well-taken left-footed goal.

In a similar fashion to his goal at Al Raed, Ronaldo lashed home the ball in with his left foot, but this time from outside the area. A pulsating encounter finished 4-3 for Al Nassr, with their captain bagging a brace. Tellingly, his three most recent goals had all been scored with his left. What weaker foot?

From there, Hail was the latest Saudi city to witness Ronaldo's unparalleled prowess. His goal from the spot against Al Tai was the culmination of a barely believable run of 10 goals in six games - a tally that set him well on his way to reach the magical 35. It wasn’t October yet, but Ronaldo was already on double digits.

Of course, what would a league season be without a trademark Ronaldo free-kick? It was time to hit one in Matchweek 10, where Damac goalkeeper Moustapha Zeghba could only watch as the ball curled past the wall and nestled into his net. Ronaldo produced one of the iconic celebrations of the season, performing the traditional Saudi Arabian "Ardha" dance. It represented a special celebration for a special goal.

Two match weeks late, partner Georgina Rodriguez was spotted in the stands, clapping in admiration for the calibre of Ronaldo's strike against Al Khaleej. A clever feint had left a defender on the ground, the Al Khaleej man equally in awe of his rival's talent.

Undoubtedly, you do not make mistakes in front of international football’s greatest goalscorer of all time. Al Wehda's defence and Al Okhdood goalkeeper Paulo Vitor found out the hard way, being punished by three goals in Ronaldo's next two games. The pick of the treble was that lobbed effort from 35 yards out - simply unforgettable.

It is those purple patches that often define the seasons of great marksmen, and Ronaldo enjoyed a red-hot winter, going on a run of scoring in six consecutive RSL matches. By end of February, he had already surpassed the 20-goal mark. Charting those unfortunate to stand in Ronaldo's way, Al Riyadh, Al Ettifaq, Al Ittihad, Al Taawoun, Al Fateh and Al Shabab were all unable to stop the Al Nassr's goal machine.

Back against Al Ahli, now in Matchweek 24, Ronaldo left Edouard Mendy in his wake, rounding the former Chelsea goalkeeper and slotting home, only for his goal to be chalked off for an offside. However, there was no stopping him from 12 yards out in the second half; Ronaldo converted another spot-kick to help his side do the double against the team that would finish just behind them in the table.

It meant he had 10 games left in the season to find 12 goals to break the record. Other players would perhaps give into the sensation it might not happen, but not Ronaldo. Over the next four matches, he would go on the most incredible streak, scoring three hat-tricks.

At home against Al Tai, he demonstrated the full range of his skillset. Scoring on the half-volley, on the rebound, and with a header, Al Nassr completed a 5-1 thumping. Their biggest win of the season came in Matchweek 26, when they put eight past Abha.

Of course, Ronaldo was at the heart of it all, scoring not one but two free-kicks, before sealing the hat-trick with a fine lob, leaving former AC Milan goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu helpless.

Having already bagged all sorts of goal, it was time for Ronaldo to grab his first "perfect hat-trick" of the season. Against Al Wehda, he opened the scoring after four minutes with a right-footed shot after a goalkeeper mistake, then added the second before the 15-minute mark with a header.

He rounded off his goals with a left-footed finish in the second half as Al Nassr emerged 6-0 winners. It proved the last of Ronaldo’s four hat-tricks of the 2023-24 season.

Already past the 30-goal barrier, Ronaldo put himself in a comfortable position to usurp Hamdallah with a goal against Al Okhdood. Yet then came a difficult period for Al Nassr and their captain: draws against Riyadh rivals Al Hilal and Al Riyadh ensured he went into the final matchweek with 33 goals to his name. Could he net the two needed to seal the record?

The answer was pretty emphatic. As the first half on Monday was edging to a goalless conclusion, Ronaldo moved into space behind the Al Ittihad defence and hammered home goal No.34, equalling Hamdallah against none other than the club the Moroccan currently represents.

Then, the moment everyone had been waiting for came in the 69th minute. Climbinghighest to meet Marcelo Brozovic’s delivery from the corner, Ronaldo's header was so powerful that it bounced back off the back of the net as if it had struck a wall.

Understandably, Ronaldo celebrated his latest slice of history as it should have been. Indeed, the header had broken something: a record that had seemed nearly impossible to match. Although, remember, "impossible" is not a word in Ronaldo's vocabulary.