Khalil Chammam will captain Esperance at UAE 2018 | Skipper provides tips for team-mates ahead of tournament | Shares dream of meeting Real Madrid in final
Esperance’s road to CAF Champions League glory this year was certainly a bumpy one. The Tunis-based side negotiated several tricky hurdles across Africa before reaching the final, where they took on Egyptian powerhouse Al Ahly. African football observers often claim that a strong defence is a virtual guarantee of trophies, and the significant role that Khalil Chammam played in his team's success is testament to that.
"Winning the Champions League this year was special because it came in the club’s centenary year and against a big team, Al Ahly,” Chammam told FIFA.com. “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.”
Chammam featured in the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011, but Esperance’s appearance was short-lived. They were eliminated by Asian champions Al Sadd, a defeat that saw them miss out on the chance of playing Barcelona in the semi-finals.
“It was a disappointing experience, unfortunately,” said the 31-year-old skipper. “Although we played much better than Al Sadd, we still lost, and didn’t get through to the semi-finals to play Barcelona. This time, we’re determined to have a better tournament so that we can put the regret of 2011 behind us.
“We put too much focus on the opportunity of playing Barcelona and didn’t really think enough about Al Sadd – we acted like we had already beaten them. This time, things will be different. We must respect our opponents, and try to make the semi-finals and to go as far as possible in the tournament.”
Esperance’s first opponents will be the winners of the match between Al Ain (UAE) and Team Wellington (New Zealand). “Regardless of who we play in the quarter-finals, it’ll be a tough match,” said Chemmam. “Without a doubt, if Al Ain qualify, they’ll 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.”
Aside from Chammam, there are three other players on Esperance’s books who took part in the 2011 edition of the competition: Moez Ben Cherifia, Sameh Darbali and Taha Yassine Khenissi.
This group of experienced heads will likely be able to provide their other team-mates with some useful pointers, in order that they all avoid a repeat of 2011.
“We should concentrate on our quarter-final first, take each game as it comes, and try not to make the same mistakes we made in 2011,” said the Tunisia international. “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.”
Going into the Club World Cup, do Esperance have any specific aims? “We didn’t really envisage winning the Champions League this season, but we wanted to go as far as possible,” said Chemmam. “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.”