For the players of Esperance Sportive de Tunis, the feelings at the conclusion of their game against Al Sadd earlier this week were undoubtedly mixed.
There was contentment at comprehensively beating the host nation’s representatives and finishing the Fifa Club World Cup Qatar in fifth place, but also regret at missing out on a semi-final berth last weekend after losing to Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, the same team Al Sadd only narrowly lost to in this year’s AFC Champions League semi-final.
At the final whistle, the Esperance players saluted their fans who had stayed on in Doha to support them after the defeat to Al Hilal.
Shortly afterwards, Fifa.com spoke with the man of the match Hamdou Elhouni, who said: “We have to thank all the fans who support us through thick and thin. They stood behind us throughout the season and helped us win trophies.”
Like his teammates, Elhouni was understandably a bit subdued after the game, regretting his side could not have performed better against their Saudi conquerors last Saturday.
“We came to Qatar determined to get past Al Hilal and progress to the semi-final, particularly as this is our third appearance at the tournament and we’re more experienced. However, that’s football and we didn’t have much luck against Al Hilal,” he lamented.
Turning to the fifth-place game, Elhouni said: “We didn’t expect that emphatic a victory, but we didn’t want to leave the tournament empty-handed. We played well and deserved to win.”
Elhouni picked up the Alibaba Cloud Match Award having bagged a hat-trick and provided another assist for Anice Badri. “I could’ve scored four goals, but luck wasn’t on my side on certain occasions. However, at Esperance, it’s all about teamwork and it doesn’t matter who scores. Winning is what matters,” he insisted.
The Tunisian giants secured two major titles in 2019, first claiming the domestic league for the third time in a row before retaining the CAF Champions League crown. Add to that their fifth place at Qatar 2019 and it has certainly been a year to remember.
These achievements have been all the more special for players and fans with 2019 being the club’s centenary year. Asked about this, Elhouni said: “We won trophies while marking 100 years since the club’s foundation. 2019 has been a special year, but it doesn’t end here for us. We must continue to win titles and strive to come back to the FIFA Club World Cup next year.”
The 25-year-old has already achieved a lot in his career, having played in Libya before moving to Portugal, where he had stints with Vitoria and Benfica before signing for Esperance. With the Tunisian champions, he has felt a lot more pressure to win, knowing the fans will settle for nothing less.
“When you play for Esperance, you have to compete for titles. That’s how it’s been since the club was founded.”