London, Dec 13: Al Hilal captain Mohammad Al Shalhoub is determined to make sure their maiden Club World Cup campaign continues into the semi-finals ahead of a debut clash with ES Tunis.
The champions of Asia and Africa meet at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on Saturday (December 14) for the right to face Copa Libertadores winners Flamengo in the last four next week.
Al Hilal became continental kings for the first time since 2000 this year, beating Urawa Red Diamonds 3-0 on aggregate in the AFC Champions League final to avenge their 2-1 defeat to the same opponents two years ago.
The Saudi Arabian side boast a strong contingent of experienced players, including former Juventus and Toronto FC star Sebastian Giovinco, ex-Lyon striker Bafetimbi Gomis and Peru international Andre Carrillo, and it is hoped this core will help calm any nerves ahead of Al Hilal's first outing on club football's world stage.
Al Shalhoub also aims to put on a showcase of the developing quality of Arabic football when he faces a Tunisian side with which he is very familiar.
"We are very happy to be here. We consider this the natural place for us," he told reporters.
"We hope we will reflect the development of Arabic football and get through the first stage, which is very important for us.
"I always follow the Tunisian clubs and I know they are very strong teams. We know a lot about the clubs and the Tunisian players, who are highly capable. We know the next match will be a beautiful derby that reflects the development of football."
Al Hilal coach Razvan Lucescu hopes their lack of experience will be offset by the positivity of having won the AFC Champions League less than a month ago.
"It's true that experience is very important at this level, but at the same time, enthusiasm and motivation are also very important. After winning the Champions League of Asia, we are full of motivation," he said.
"We know Esperance are a physical team while having quality from midfield and upwards. But we have a lot of quality and motivation. We're waiting for this game."
Esperance reached their third Club World Cup after winning the CAF Champions League for the second year in a row in contentious circumstances, the Tunisians being awarded the trophy after the second leg was forced to be abandoned by Wydad Casablanca's protests over a disallowed goal in May.
Having been beaten convincingly 3-0 by Al Ain last year, Esperance are better prepared for the 2019 finals, according to head coach Moin Chaabani.
"This is the first game for us, and the ultimate goal for us is to achieve success in the next match," he said. "Al Hilal are a well-respected team. They have world-class players and very talented strikers.
"For Esperance, this is the second [consecutive] participation at the Club World Cup. Unfortunately, we did not win the first match and were knocked out. This time, we're more focused and ready to play a good match. The concentration is very high."
Players to watch
Al Hilal – Bafetimbi Gomis
Gomis has rejuvenated his career in recent seasons with Marseille, Galatasaray and now Al Hilal. The 34-year-old, a 12-time France international, scored 11 goals in 14 games to finish as the AFC Champions League's top scorer in 2019.
ES Tunis – Anice Badri
With four goals in six matches in the league this season, Badri is likely to be key to Esperance's chances of springing something of a surprise on Saturday.