Guest Feature | Lotfi Wada
Goal in collaboration with African Football HQ , are delighted to present the latest instalment of our series celebrating the greatest club sides in the history of the continent’s game.
In this feature, we present Esperance 2010-13, who reached three Caf Champions League finals.
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We are delighted to announce a collaboration with @goal to celebrate Africa’s greatest club sides in history!
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In 2010, Faouzi Benzarti’s perfectly oiled machine returned to the group stages of the Caf Champions League after a two-year hiatus and an explosive game in Omdurman against Al Merreikh.
The Blood & Gold comfortably ended their group-stage campaign on top (while smashing title holders Tout Puissant Mazembe 3-0 in Rades) to qualify for an umpteenth semi and duel against rivals Al-Ahly.
One of the most fiercely contested matches in African football, Al Ahly and Esperance always lock horns in frenetic atmospheres, and 2010 was no different.
Touted as favourites considering both teams’ campaigns so far, Esperance were 2-0 down in Cairo due to a controversial goal from Mohamed Fadl and a rocket from Ahmed Fathy until Oussama ‘Picasso’ Darragi gave Taraji a deserved away goal four minutes later.
Esperance still had all to do in Rades.
A handball goal by top-scorer Michael Eneramo in the first minute sent Mkahckha to their fourth Caf Champions League final, where they would have to face TP Mazembe.
The final, in the old Frederic Kibasa Stadium, saw Esperance being given a taste of their own medicine.
Benzarti’s boys left Lubumbashi with a humiliating 5-0 loss, and were left with a proverbial Mount Kilimanjaro to climb.
The return leg wouldn’t see any miracles; Esperance now had 2010 to add to their list of Champions League heartbreaks.
Qualifying for the next edition as league champions, Esperance wouldn’t have any problem qualifying for and topping their group in 2011.
Locking horns with seasoned Sudanese heavyweights Al Hilal Omdurman in the ‘graveyard of champions’, Nabil Maaloul’s men would offer what was one of the most impressive away performances by a Tunisian club in the tournament’s history.
In the heat of Omdurman, and in front of 80,000 eyes, the Tunisian champions took the lead through Youssef Msakni’s goal.
The Esperance that had so outclassed MC Alger in the group stage was back, and they comfortably cruised through a return match behind closed doors in Rades, setting up a final against Wydad Casablanca.
Two years previously, Esperance had won the Arab Champions League against the Moroccan heavyweights, and thus had a psychological upper hand heading into the final, even if memories of heartbreaking finals in 1999, 2000 and 2010 still lingered.
Esperance opted for a cautious approach in the cathedral of the Mohamed V Stadium.
More experienced than the previous year, Esperance left Morocco with an encouraging goalless draw before the return leg in Rades, although it was clear that the final remained in the balance.
— Espérance de Tunis – الترجي التونسي (@EsperanceSTunis) July 25, 2016
The return leg started in the expected fashion, with Esperance looking for a quick opener to take control.
The Blood & Gold got what they wanted courtesy of Harrison Afful’s rocket.
The pint-sized full-back, who scored a year earlier at the same stage, unleashed a beautiful curler past Nadir Lamyaghri to give Esperance the lead. The Ghanaian’s goal was all they needed, the Champions League was finally returning to Bab Souika.
A year later, with their squad beefed by the signature of Youcef Belaili, Taraji would try to defend their crown but without success.
They qualified for a third Champions League final in a row after a brilliant tactical game won against TP Mazembe, but Esperance had to face rivals Al Ahly to keep their crown.
Looking favourites after a crucial 1-1 draw in Alexandria, (despite missing key players through injuries and suspensions) the Blood & Gold would be submerged at home by Ahly’s extraordinary physical impact on that night and lose what looked like (again) a promised crown.
2013 was the swansong of the generation.
After yet another terrific group stage campaign, the Blood & Gold would fall, this time in the semis, at the hands of the surprise package of the competition, Orlando Pirates.