Al Sadd, Esperance dream of Barcelona

AFP, Saturday 10 Dec 2011

The coach of African champions Esperance admitted on Saturday that it was a problem getting his players to focus on their Club World Cup opener when they know Barcelona await them if they win

Nabil Maaloul

The Tunisians take on Asian winners Al Sadd, from Qatar, at the intercontinental showpiece in Japan on Sunday, with a glamour tie against the European and Spanish champions the prize.

Coach Nabil Maaloul said on the eve of Esperance's debut at the tournament: "Our players are thinking about Barcelona but we are trying to stop them from thinking ahead.

"It's been difficult to try to get Barcelona out of their minds, but we have been trying to get them to focus only on tomorrow's match."

Maaloul, whose side enjoyed a memorable season, wrapping up three titles including the regional crown, said the popular revolt in Tunisia which toppled the country's dictator and sparked the Arab Spring was a "big motivation".

Football was suspended in Tunisia during a mass movement which resulted in the overthrow in January of longtime ruler Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

"We had to be quite strong during that time," said Maaloul, 49, a former midfielder with the national side.

"For two-and-a-half months we couldn't practise but we were determined to get to the final (of the African Champions League).

"Football in Tunisia is connected to domestic politics but we tried not to be affected by that. We just focused on ourselves and tried not to be diverted."

Maaloul's Al Sadd counterpart, the Uruguayan Jorge Fossati, said he had similarly been trying to get his side to forget about Barcelona.

"I've been telling my players that they have to concentrate and focus and put their energy into the game in front of them," he said in Toyota.

"The upcoming match is always the most important one of the year. All our energy will go into tomorrow's match. It's meaningless to look further than that.

"I want us to put on a good performance tomorrow so people will have a good impression of Qatari football and so the people of Qatar can be proud of us."

Abdul Kader Keita, Al Sadd's experienced Ivory Coast striker, insisted the players had taken their coach's advice firmly onboard.

"Everyone is talking about Barcelona but the most important match is tomorrow. Everyone will be watching the game tomorrow," he said.

The Al Sadd-Esperance clash at the Toyota stadium is half of a double-header Sunday, when the newly crowned Japanese champions Kashiwa Reysol will take on Monterrey of Mexico.

Barcelona and the Brazilian giants Santos enter the competition at the semi-final stage next week.

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