Afful says 'unity' is the key for Esperance

Esperance team-mates Harrison Afful (left) and Ben Hammouda
Harrison Afful (left) says the unity within the Esperance squad can take the 1994 African champions far this year

Esperance defender Harrison Afful says unity is the key to the Tunisians' progress in this year's African Champions League.

On Sunday, the Blood and Golds kick off the first leg of their semi-final against Al Hilal in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

"When you have unity in football, you have love," the Ghanaian said.

"So that is what is keeping us going - everybody loves each other so if we keep this mentality, we will go far."

"During and after training, we are used to speaking with each other about the Champions League because we have a long way to go - and it's not easy to qualify for the semis."

Afful returns from suspension for the match, having missed the Cairo draw against Al Ahly which saw Esperance qualify for the last four as Group B winners.

And the Black Star says that avoiding defeat in Sudan will be a sizeable challenge.

"It's not easy but with determination, the belief I have in my colleagues and our fans, I think we can do something in Sudan," he told BBC Sport.

"Even if we don't win, I think we can come back with a draw."

The 1994 champions have suffered just one defeat in their last 10 Champions League games, away to ASPAC of Benin last April in a largely meaningless match having won the home leg by five goals.

They will be without suspended Mali defender Idrissa Coulibaly while midfielder Mejdi Traore is an injury doubt.

Esperance, who finished runners-up to TP Mazembe last year, will be wary of Al Hilal's Zimbabwean striker Edward Sadoma, the competition's top scorer with seven goals.

The second leg of the tie on 15 October will be played behind closed doors after sanctions announced by the Confederation of African Football.

This followed violence in the stands at a group match earlier this month.

"We are very sorry, but it is not a new thing to us," Afful added.

"We have already played some Champions League games without the public but in the semi-final, it hurts - and it is a bad feeling for us.

"As a player, I feel very bad as whenever I play with the fans I want to deliver more. Without the public, I feel bad.

"We have to take it in good faith and deliver - with or without the public."

In a separate development, Club Africain were ordered to play their next two home matches behind closed doors after a pitch invasion by fans at a Confederation Cup group game earlier this month.

The Tunisian club, who will be contesting the Confederation Cup semi-final against Nigeria's Sunshine Stars next month, was also fined US$100,000.

Should they reach the two-leg final in November, they will have to play without home support.

Caf has also issued both clubs with final warnings about the behaviour of their fans and threatened to ban them in future.