Esperance eye Club World Cup glory

Esperance of Tunisia lift the 2011 African Champions League trophy
Esperance qualified for the 2011 Fifa Club World Cup after winning their first African champions' crown since 1994

As Tunisia's Esperance prepare to make their Fifa Club World Cup bow, they know that only victory over Asian champions Al Sadd can set up a dream semi-final clash against Barcelona.

The pair clash on Sunday in Japan, where the Qatari champions will be reliant upon three key African internationals of recent years.

The experienced trio of Nadir Belhadj (Algeria), Abdul Kader Keita (Ivory Coast) and Mamadou Niang (Senegal) stand in the way of the Blood and Golds.

Esperance won their place at the year-ending Fifa competition after defeating Moroccans Wydad Casablanca in the African Champions League final last month.

And the tournament could mark the end of a magical year as coach for former Esperance midfielder Nabil Maaloul amid reports he will soon step down from his post.

"Taking part in the Club World Cup is the crowning glory for me after winning the Champions League and the domestic championship and cup double," said the former Tunisia international, 49.

"We have a good attacking approach and a number of players who can make a difference at any given moment. Our defensive organisation is also good. We work as a team with our first defenders being the strikers."

Not that there may be too many strikers about with Maaloul often favouring a flexible 4-5-1 formation, leaving Cameroonian Yannick Ndjeng up front while support comes from wide midfielders Youssef Msakni and Wajdi Bouazzi.

Attack-conscious captain Ousama Darragi is the playmaker and Mejdi Traoui and Khaled Korbi the midfield 'enforcers' who protect a back four that may comprise Ghana's Harrison Afful, Yaya Banana from Cameroon, Qualid Hichri and Khelil Chamam.

Behind them stands 20-year-old goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifia, a worthy successor to the great Chokri al-Ouaer, who conceded just six goals in 14 matches en route to CAf Champions League glory.

Despite his tender age, Cherifia is already knocking on the door of national coach Sami Trabelsi as injured first-choice Aymen Mathlouthi could miss the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations next month.

Mamadou Niang (left) and Abdul Kader Keita (centre) of Al Sadd
Mamadou Niang and Abdul Kader Keita celebrate Al Sadd's Asian triumph

Esperance are the most successful club in Tunisian football, both domestically and internationally, but they could be accused of over-confidence ahead of their Club World Cup debut.

"Everyone is expecting the final to be between Barcelona and Santos, but maybe they can watch a final between Esperance and Santos instead," said club president domestic Riadh Bennour.

First however, Esperance have to do what no African side has done at the tournament - namely, beat an Asian side - with Africa having lost the four previous continental meetings to date.

Barcelona are the red-hot favourites to win a second Club World Cup in three years, with the tournament featuring the club champions from the six Fifa regions, as well as J-League winners Kashiwa Reysol as representatives of the host nation.

Japan's Kashiwa Reysol, who won their first J-League title at the weekend, take on Auckland City in the opening game of the competition on Thursday.

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