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RIYADH: Not many people would travel for 30 hours to watch a couple of football matches but this does not apply to YunXiang Ding and his wife Xutong Guo who are superfans of Saudi Arabia giants Al-Nassr and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The couple are from Changchun, the capital of northeast China’s Jilin province, which is just a few hours from the border with North Korea.

On April 1 — and no, this is definitely not an April Fool’s joke — the couple flew three hours from Changchun to Shanghai, waited eight hours at the airport there, and then boarded a nine-and-a-half-hour flight to Dubai.

At this point, they met up with Xutong’s sister Angie, who travelled from Hong Kong, and met Angie’s husband Simon, who lives in Abu Dhabi, to fly three hours from the UAE to beautiful Abha in southwest Saudi Arabia. Friend Triston Zhao, who travelled from Shanghai, also accompanied the group.

And it was there, at the end of an exhausting but hugely exhilarating and worthwhile trip, that they watched Al-Nassr play Damac in the Roshn Saudi League at the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Stadium.

Xutong said: “The seats we had in the stadium were very near the touchline and we were close to Ronaldo warming up and when he moved out to the wing. It was the experience of a lifetime. We made a big, handmade poster banner for Ronaldo, and he saw it as he was clapping us walking off the pitch. It was amazing. We were so close to him.”

An injury-time Al-Nassr winner from Aymeric Laporte meant the group truly got to celebrate their trip to Saudi Arabia — but as well as the football, they were also able to appreciate the beauty of Abha. The capital city of Asir province is known for its stunning mountains, greenery, birds and dense juniper forests.

Xutong said: “Abha is so beautiful. The clouds, the scenery — it was more beautiful than the pictures we saw online could ever show. Seeing Al-Nassr play in such a beautiful place was truly special and the Saudi people were so warm and friendly. At the stadium people were asking us for pictures with us, but they said it’s not uncommon for Chinese fans to travel to watch Al-Nassr. Al-Nassr are huge in China.”

Utilizing Chinese public holidays that allowed a 10-day break, the group then flew from Abha back to the UAE, where they watched Al-Nassr play in the Saudi Super Cup in Abu Dhabi. A 2-1 defeat to Al-Hilal, in a match where Ronaldo was shown a red card, failed to dampen spirits about the trip or their love for their adopted team.

Simon said: “We are all big Cristiano fans and started supporting Al-Nassr when he joined — but our love for the club goes beyond him. YunXiang and Xutong in particular are big fans — they watch all the matches at home, and these are often shown very late at night or early in the morning. They have to stay up or get up at various times to watch. People in this part of the world maybe don’t understand how dedicated they are and the lengths they go to watch Al-Nassr. And there are many fans like this in China, Al-Nassr are hugely popular.”

The cost of the trip — inclusive of flights, accommodation and spending money — was “around $5,000 per person,” Tristan said. But each agreed it was worth every penny.

Xutong added: “Cristiano Ronaldo inspires a generation of young people to not give up easily when they face setbacks. He inspires people to be just like him — and even if their efforts sometimes do not lead to a complete perfect ending, the spirit still remains. He is a world-famous superstar and a role model for Al-Nassr and Saudi Arabian football. People may think our trip to see him and Al-Nassr play in person took a long time for travel, but I feel so privileged to have been able to do so. It really was the trip of a lifetime.”

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