African champions Esperance and their Asian counterparts Al Sadd square off in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011. The prize awaiting the victors is a semi-final rendezvous with the mighty Barcelona, incentive enough for both sides to hit the ground running on their tournament debuts.
Esperance-Al-Sadd, Toyota Stadium, Sunday 11 December 2011, 16:00 (local time)
Esperance have swept the board this season, completing a Tunisian league and cup double and also getting their hands on the CAF Champions League, their passport to Japan 2011. With an average age of 24, their squad is the youngest in the competition, but despite that seeming lack of experience, Nabil Maaloul's team are confident of achieving their next objective and teeing up a meeting with Barcelona on Thursday. Technically gifted and well knit, they also have an ace up their sleeve in the shape of elusive wide man Youssef Msakni.
Whereas Esperance’s march to the African title was not unexpected, the same cannot be said of Al Sadd, who upset the form book in defeating Korea Republic’s Jeonbuk Motors in the Asian Champions League final. The Doha side boast a fine blend of youth and experience, and with the likes of Mamadou Niang, Kader Keita and Khalfan Ibrahim in attack, they pack a punch too. Coach Jorge Fosatti can also call on a solid central-defensive partnership in Abdulla Koni and Lee Jung, who barely put a foot wrong as the Qataris strode to the continental title.
10 - The number of clean sheets Esperance managed to keep in their victorious 14-match CAF Champions League campaign, the Tunisians conceding just six goals in all.
“They are a side on the up, and they like to play football. They’ve also got a sprinkling of foreign players who can turn games, though I’m not so much worried about Al Sadd as I am about my players, who have a tendency to underestimate Asian football. If Esperance put their minds to it, they can win the match,” Nabil Maaloul, Esperance coach
“I have a lot of belief in the potential of my players. We’re up against formidable opponents, but we’ll be making life hard for them too,” Jorge Fossati, Al Sadd coach