Cristiano Ronaldo may have become the most followed celebrity on social media, but even the greatest goal-scorer of all time showed the white flag to fans who would never ditch their team for a superstar.

Yellow, the colours of Ronaldo’s Al Nassr who took on UAE’s Al Ain in the first leg of the Asian Champions League quarterfinal, still dominated the roads that led to the majestic Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Monday.

But somehow it was the purple colours of Al Ain FC, the 14-time UAE champions, that caught the eye.

While many Emirati fans even drove from Abu Dhabi to root for Al Ain against the Saudi club, scores of fans from Oman proudly wore purple scarves.

Rashid and Hamad, two childhood friends from Al Buraimi, Oman, often drive to Al Ain to cheer for the UAE club.

“We are from Oman, but we have always supported Al Ain, it’s our favourite club,” said Rashid.

Hamad revealed Al Ain is among the most popular football clubs in Oman.

“Football has no boundaries. People may think that we have come here for Ronaldo, but no we drove to Al Ain for the Al Ain Football Club. We do that often because it’s a team we have been supporting since our childhood,” he said.

While Rashid and Hamad mingled with the Emirati fans, Omaima Aziz, a 13-year-old Moroccan girl, was waiting anxiously at the front gate along with her younger sister, Malak, her father Aziz Mohammed and her father’s best friend, Hameed Mohammed.

Yes, she was indeed waiting for Al Nassr’s bus to arrive, carrying Ronaldo and his teammates.

But, no, she was not standing there to wave at the Portuguese icon and cheer for him at the stadium.

“I am here to taunt him about how Portugal lost to Morocco in the Qatar World Cup,” she said of her country’s famous win over Ronaldo’s team in the 2022 Fifa World Cup quarterfinal.

“It was the happiest moment in my life when Morocco beat them and reached the semifinal. Now I am here to support Al Ain. We live in Al Ain, now it’s our team and we are here to back them against Ronaldo.”

Mohammed, an Emirati football fan from Abu Dhabi, has always admired the 39-year-old Ronaldo’s incredible skills and longevity as a footballer.

“But today I have not come here for Ronaldo. I have come here for Al Ain. I have always been a fan of Al Ain, it’s the biggest club in the UAE. We were the champions of Asia in 2003,” he said.

“Of course, I love Ronaldo as a footballer. I am a very big fan. But I want him to lose today. Sorry, Ronaldo. Al Ain is my team.”

But make no mistake, Ronaldo’s appeal is irresistible. And his very presence on Monday drew football fans of diverse backgrounds to Al Ain.

Pong Wang, a Vietnamese tourist, arrived in Al Ain even without match tickets.

“I have come here from Ras Al Khaimah with my friends, they are also from Vietnam. We are all from Vietnam, we don’t have tickets, but we are crazy for Ronaldo. He is huge in our country,” Wang said.

Moments after chatting with the Khaleej Times, Wang and his friends got lucky — a Saudi national offered them free tickets for the match!

Indian expat Irshad Ap, on the other hand, grabbed his tickets as soon as they were available online.

“Look, I have arrived here with my son at 3 pm, still five hours to go for the match,” he said, pointing to his child.

“He is very small now, but he is already a Ronaldo fan. Even my wife is a Ronaldo fan. It’s a big moment for us to be able to watch him here today.”

While India and Pakistan have been better rivals, with the two nuclear-armed neighbours fighting three wars since the 1947 partition, Ronaldo seems to have become a great unifier, at least for football fans.

Ali Shah, a Dubai resident who arrived in the UAE from Pakistan last year for work, echoed Irshad on Ronaldo’s impact on his life as a footballer.

“I have followed Ronaldo since his Real Madrid days. He is the one who made me fall in love with football,” Ali said.

“As you know people are crazy for cricket in my country, but I am crazy for Ronaldo.”

But sitting serenely on a bench were three Sudanese siblings, all draped in yellow.

Aseel Saliem, 19, arrived at the stadium with her younger sister, Lamar, 14, and little brother, Mohammad, 10, five hours before kick-off.

“My brother is the biggest Ronaldo fan in the world. He is just in love with his football,” said Aseel, who lives in Al Ain with her family.

“As for me I like Ronaldo, but I am more of a Sadio Mane fan, the Liverpool legend who is now Ronaldo’s teammate at Al Nassr.

“But more importantly, we love football and we are here to watch Ronaldo and a good game of football.”

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