Khaled Badra of Esperance, Koutouan Antoine of ASEC MimosasGetty Images

Africa’s greatest club sides of all-time: Esperance & Al-Hilal

Guest Feature | Lotfi Wada

Goal, in association with African Football HQ , are delighted to introduce the first instalment of our series celebrating the greatest club sides in the history of the continent’s game.

In Part One, we present the two sides who rank 15th and 16th in our all-time continental ranking of the great African club cycles.

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Kelechi Osunwa Al Hilal Sudan

16) Al-Hilal Omdurman, 2007-2012

Cairo, 18th of March 2007, 8pm; the referee blows his whistle in a silent Cairo Stadium. Al-Hilal Omdurman have just stunned the then-record winners of the Caf Champions League SC Zamalek and announced their return to the group stages of Africa’s premier club competition after a long slumber.

An African powerhouse was reborn.

Massively powered by rich tycoons (Salah Idris and later Amin Brair), Al Hilal’s squad housed a huge chunk of the Sudan national team’s golden generation, as well as fine foreigners like Dario Khan, Kelechi Osunwa, Eze Godwin and, last but not least, Edward Sadomba.

Epic wins over Al-Ahly, Esperance, Etoile du Sahel, and other African giants transformed the Al-Hilal Stadium into a giants’ graveyard, and undoubtedly Seed Al Balad’s biggest asset in their quest for a first African title.

The Blue Wave cemented their spot as one of Africa’s best teams when they made the semi- finals in 2007, 2009 and 2011, while in 2010 and 2012 they reached the semi-finals of the CAF Confederation Cup.

2012 was meant to be the end of the world, according to the Mayans, but it actually proved to be the end of this glittering team.

Following a disappointing Champions League exit at the hands of debutants ASO Chlef, the Blues fell again in the latter stages of the Confed Cup against Djoliba in Bamako, again in heartbreaking fashion.

This generation remained kings without crowns, but are undoubtedly among the greatest East African club teams ever.

15) Esperance, 1999-2004

A case could be made that this Esperance side is, pound for pound, the greatest African club team to have not got their hands on an African title.

Including talent like Khaled Badra, Radhi Jaidi, Julius Aghahowa and Ali Zitouni, it’s hard to explain exactly how this monstrous generation failed to bring an African cup back to Bab Souika.

In 1999 they crushed all their competitors but fell at the last stage, a final against Raja Casablanca.

They’d lost just one match through the entire campaign, but Mustapha Chadli’s heroics on an epic day of Ramadan amidst a gobsmacked El Menzah Stadium ensured the title went to Morocco.

A year later, the Blood & Gold reached the final once again, but were taken down by Accra Hearts of Oak.

After those two painful final losses, Esperance reached the semi-finals in 2001, 2003 and finally in 2004, when they were defeated by Enyimba at home.

This marked the final chapter at Esperance for a crop of players destined for greater things.

Although the Tunisian heavyweights finally brought home the African crown years later, the numerous traumas of this era are still strongly engraved in fans’ psyche, as this collection of superb players had appeared destined for continental glory.