Against all the odds, however, the Black Eagles, who won the 1988 African Cup of Champions Clubs, reached the eight-team group stage for only the second time since the Champions League came into being.
Not content with that achievement, the Algerians then took second place in Group B behind Tunisia’s Club Sportif Sfaxien and ahead of Esperance de Tunis and Al Ahly Benghazi, booking a place in the semi-finals in the process.
The man behind their march to the latter stages of the competition is coach Kheireddine Madoui, a former player with the club, who spoke to FIFA.com about their unlikely achievement.
“It’s come as a surprise because we lost a number of first-team players before the start of the competition and we’ve had a few financial problems to contend with,” he explained.
ES Setif’s opponents in the last four are TP Mazembe of Congo DR. Madoui knows the Congolese giants well following the two meetings between the clubs in the group phase of the 2013 CAF Confederation Cup, the sides drawing 1-1 in Algeria and Mazembe winning the return fixture 4-2 to seal Setif’s elimination from the competition.
“We played Mazembe last year and we know the city, the stadium, the hotel, the team and how skilful they are,” said the Black Eagles coach. “We will try to get our revenge for that 4-2 defeat last season, and we also met them in the group phase of the Champions League back in 2010.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s first leg at home, Madoui said: “It’s a difficult match and we’ll have to try and avoid making mistakes at the back against a side with a lot of Champions League experience and who know exactly what they’re about.”
Though he is taking a cautious approach to the tie, Madoui is also aware that he has the best attack of the group phase at his disposal. The Algerian outfit scored nine goals in their section, six of them coming from striker El Heidi Belameiri, the leading scorer in the competition.
Pondering his tactics against a team that conceded just twice in their six group games, Madoui said: “We’ll be looking to El Heidi Belameiri, Abdelmalek Ziaya, Sofiane Younes and Akram Djahnit to show the way. We need the players to really focus if we’re going to get a good result in the first leg, one that will help us reach the final.”
Though a relatively young member of his profession, Madoui picked up plenty of experience as an assistant to the Swiss coach Alain Geiger and the Frenchmen Hubert Velud and Jean-Christian Lang.
He also has lots of ambition to go with that experience: “My objective is a place in the final and then for us to go on and become African champions.”
A former Algeria international, Madoui is looking even further ahead than the continental title: “If we win the Champions League, we’ll become the very first side to represent Algeria at the Club World Cup. It’s a wonderful opportunity and it’s made the players even more motivated.”
He went on to say that Algeria’s superb showing at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ has given his charges a boost and made them more determined to show how much Algerian football has progressed in the last few years.
“The national team’s excellent results in Brazil have had a positive impact on all Algerian clubs, none more so than Setif,” said Madoui. “Watching them reach the last 16 for the first time has made our players are even hungrier for success. That’s why we hope to achieve big things.”