It will go down as one of the greatest shocks in Champions League history: Real Madrid 1-2 FC Sheriff Tiraspol. The record thirteen-time European Cup champions defeated by a team from *checks notes* Moldova(!) in their own backyard.
While Real Madrid undoubtedly had an off night – the Spanish giants registered 31 shots to Sheriff's four – it's hard to deny that the Moldovan outfit produced one of the all-time great underdog performances. Not only that, but the win also places the visitors top of a tough Group D also including Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk.
But who on Earth are they? Are they actually very good and we just didn't know? Could they do an Ajax and reach the semis? Where the hell is Moldova anyway? Let's find out the answer to some of these burning questions...
Who are FC Sheriff Tiraspol?
Moldovan big boys FC Sheriff have won 17 of the past 19 league titles in their native land, including the past six in a row. However, this season is their first in the Champions League, with Sheriff having failed to make it through the qualifying rounds before in their 24 year history.
Until 1991, Moldova was part of the now dissolved Soviet Union, and its teams competed – often unsuccessfully – in the USSR's football pyramid. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Moldova formed its own league system in 1992. Sheriff Tiraspol compete in the top flight of this. But things aren't all that simple (as the below thread explains in more detail).
Tiraspol is the capital of a breakaway Moldovan state called Transnistria, located near the Ukrainian border. Transnistria considers itself the last remaining outpost of the Soviet Union, has its own government and military, but still has teams playing in Moldova's football leagues. Record champions Sheriff were founded in 1997 by high ranking Transnistria officials who owned the unrecognised nation's only supermarket chain, Sheriff. It is from this company's sponsorship that the team gets its name.
There are rumours that the club serves as a money-laundering operation for nefarious directors. They have an enormous football complex and top-notch stadium, by far the largest in the country, which also serves as the occasional home ground of the Moldovan national team – despite Sheriff Stadium being located in a breakaway state.
What is known for definite is that the club bulldozes the domestic competition every season thanks to a spending power no other team possesses. The first team squad boasts a number of players from South America – including three Brazilians – as well as Africa, and training facilities far beyond the spending power of rivals.
Sheriff's on-field success – which has now extended into Europe's premier club competition – is startling given the state of the rest of the football played across Moldova, with many top flight games taking place in crumbling stadiums with only handfuls of fans present.
So let me put this into perspective a little bit. I don't think a lot of folks truly understand what it means that a team from Moldova has made it to the Champions' League.I grew up a 15-minute drive from Tiraspol and I can give you a tiny bit of an idea... https://t.co/m1FKJEj167August 26, 2021
It is difficult to gauge precisely how good this team is. They're currently third in the Moldovan National League – albeit with three games in hand – but top of arguably the toughest Champions League group. They've won both their European fixtures so far, after defeating Shakhtar 2-0 at home earlier in September.
Yet against both Real and the Ukrainian side, they've enjoyed less than a quarter of the possession and had their goal peppered for 90 minutes. Coach Yuriy Vernydub has undoubtedly made them an obdurate outfit, who take their chances when they do arrive. But it does also suggest a team riding their luck a little.
The club was once known mainly for its Sheriff badge crest, but victory at the Bernabeu has put them on the map for a whole lot more.
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