Al-Ittihad is set to make their first appearance in competitive action since claiming the Saudi Pro League title in May. They will face Esperance de Tunis in the opening Group A match at the 2023 King Salman Club Cup in Taif on Thursday.
In a press conference on Wednesday night, Al-Ittihad coach Nuno Espirito Santo expressed his anticipation for a tough game.
“Currently, Al-Ittihad’s squad is not yet complete, and we are waiting for the arrival of additional players to the team roster,” he stated.
“I am well aware of the enthusiasm the Al-Ittihad fans have for this tournament. They are eager for victories and titles, especially after our triumph in the Saudi Professional League. We will go all out in this tournament to bring them joy.
“Our team has been in training camp in Taif for the past few weeks, and we are determined to bring glory to the club.”
Santo shared that the club’s owners had informed him that recently signed international stars such as Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kanté, and Jota are available for selection.
Regarding the upcoming match against Esperance, Santo mentioned, “I have closely observed the last four matches of Esperance, and I am aware of their weaknesses and strengths. It will be a challenging encounter.”
Al-Ittihad striker Romarino expressed confidence in the team, saying, “With the addition of new players, we will have a strong squad to compete for this prestigious cup.”
The head coach of the Tunisian side, Moine Chaabani, acknowledged that the timing of the competition, also known as the Arab Club Champions Cup, is not ideal for his team. Esperance is currently undergoing a transitional phase, with key players leaving and the signing of new players continuing during the summer transfer window.
“The Arab championship might serve as an advantageous opportunity for the team to start afresh and find the right path. It is also a great chance to face exceptional star players,” Chaabani explained.
He further highlighted that Esperance holds the best record in the tournament, having won it thrice and finished as runners-up twice. He added that this serves as motivation for both new and younger players to step up and gain valuable experience.
“We are up against a very strong team that includes notable names like Benzema and Kanté, but we will play to defeat them,” Chaabani emphasized.
The game is scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. local time in King Fahd Stadium, Taif. Al-Ittihad had previously finished as runners-up to Moroccan side Raja Club Athletic of Casablanca in the 2020 Arab Club Champions Cup. The Saudi team lost 4-3 on penalties in the final after a 4-4 draw in regular time.