Al-Ain mount stunning comeback to reach FIFA Club World Cup quarters

Al-Ain mount stunning comeback to reach FIFA Club World Cup quarters

Esperance Sportive de Tunis told to forget Real Madrid and focus on Al-Ain in FIFA Club World Cup

ABU DHABI: Esperance Sportive de Tunis have been told they have to learn from their mistakes of 2011 or forget about a dream date with Real Madrid. 

The Tunisian giants face Al-Ain in their quarterfinal with their skipper Khalil Chemmam reminding them not to fall foul of overconfidence as they did when they last played in the FIFA Club World Cup seven years ago. In Japan, Esperance were beaten by Asian champions Al-Sadd, a defeat that saw them miss out on the chance of playing Barcelona in the semifinals.

With a last-four clash against Real Madrid on offer to the winners of Saturday’s match, Chemmam is only too aware of the possibility of history repeating itself. 

“We should concentrate on our quarterfinal first, take each game as it comes, and try not to make the same mistakes we made in 2011,” the Tunisia international said. 

“We have to focus on our initial opponents and do our research beforehand. We must give our all out on the pitch so that we don’t have any regrets this time.”

He added: “Appearing at the Club World Cup might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some players, so we should be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past, when we played well but lost. That’s why we have to stay focused and do our best to advance as far as we can in the competition.”

That Esperance are even in the position to take on the most successful club sides in the world has come as a bit of a shock to the defender. Egyptian aces Al-Ahly were strongly fancied to beat them over the two legs of the CAF Champions League final. They lost 3-1 in Alexandria but fashioned a brilliant comeback in the second leg, winning 3-0 to claim the title 4-3 on aggregate. 

But now that they have made it to the UAE they do, Chemmam admitted, have one eye on a clash with Real Madrid. 

“We didn’t really envisage winning the Champions League this season, but we wanted to go as far as possible,” Chemmam said. 

“There wasn’t much pressure on us, and we managed to go on a run and claim the title. And so we’ll try to do the same in the Club World Cup. 

“We won’t set an objective, but everyone’s been dreaming of making it to the final and playing Real Madrid, the European champions.

“I’m so fortunate to be an Esperance player. They’re a big name, not just in Tunisia, but throughout Africa. If I didn’t play here, I might not have had the chance to participate in the Club World Cup in 2011, and now again in 2018. That said, I’ll need to handle the large amount of responsibility placed on my shoulders, and hopefully we’ll record better results at this tournament compared to last time around in Japan.”

If Chemmam and his Esperance side can cause a shock or two over the coming few days, it perhaps would not be too much of a surprise. It is the team’s centenary year and as seen with the CAF Champions League win, luck does seem to be on their side. 

“Winning the Champions League this year was special because it came in the club’s centenary year and against a big team, Al Ahly,” Chemmam said. “Out of all the trophies we’ve won, this one is unique because we not only beat them, but we also played better than them. It was a happy day for Tunisia and for Esperance’s supporters, of course. It was an exceptional tournament for us.”

Of their last-four opponents he added: “It’ll be a tough match.

“Without a doubt … Al-Ain will have a lot of supporters in the stands, and that will give them a boost. However, our fans will be there for us too. They follow us wherever we go, and we expect that to continue at the Club World Cup.”

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