When a proposed European Super League was spearheaded by Real Madrid and their president Florentino Pérez, many questioned why a footballing superpower would want to extend their overarching superiority on the game even further — why a side with so much financial prowess would want to further alienate smaller clubs from the beautiful game. Those who scorned the Spanish capital were overjoyed when the league was abandoned and further, rather ironic injury was inflicted on Los Blancos when they were beaten late on at home by FC Sheriff Tiraspol.
The Moldovan outfit are everything Pérez stands against. Champions League debutants, the plucky outfit remain unbeaten in Europe this season, going to show that whilst the elite amongst the continent may possess the biggest wage bill and attract the most fans, there is still room for the smaller nations to come along and cause an upset in the Champions League betting — what would the Champions League be without drama? And there was drama aplenty at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Situated in the breakaway state of Transnistria, in the city of Tiraspol, Sheriff have pulled off some of the biggest shocks in Champions League football already this season, despite having played just two games. Last season, it was business as usual for manager Yuriy Vernydub, as he picked up another domestic league title, the clubs 20th in 22 seasons, but few expected them to embark on a campaign of elite football when they beat Dinamo Zagreb in a play-off to become the first Moldovan side to reach the group stages.
The cosmopolitan outfit, comprised of various nationalities and cultures, feature players from all across the globe. Jasurbek Yakhshiboev is from Uzbekistan, Boban Nikolov from Macedonia, Keston Julien of Trinidad and Tobago, and plenty more. This ragtag group of individuals simply shouldn’t be able to coexist and compete with the likes of Real Madrid, the thirteen-time champions or even Shakhtar Donetsk, an established European side who regularly play group stage football, but that’s the magic of the Champions League.
The Zholto-chornyye stepped into the Bernabéu and played without fear. Whether it was the sense of the unknown, the belief they got from beating their Ukrainian opponents on the previous matchday, or even the complacency displayed by Carlo Ancelotti’s group of superstars, everything just seemed to click on the night and allowed Sheriff to establish a 100% record so far for the group stage. A late goal that was cleverly worked from Sebastien Thill, putting the visitors ahead after Karim Benzema had pulled Los Blancos level from the penalty spot.
Ancelotti said he was ‘a little sad’ as he felt Real ‘deserved to win’.
“You could say we had bad luck, we lost the game on the small details, they scored their goals on the counter-attack and from a throw-in,” the Italian said. “We had a lot of shots at goal but sometimes luck deserts you in games.
“Everything went well for them; everything went wrong for us.”
The Sheriffs have shot down everyone in their path so far and have made their alleged ‘group of death’ look a relatively straightforward affair. While they sit third in their Moldovan National Division, they have played three less than top place Milsami Orhei due to their European commitments, it should be routine for them to win their games in hand and once again establish Moldovan superiority.
On top of that there is the small matter of a doubleheader with Inter Milan to squeeze in. Although the Italian champions have dropped points already this campaign, they remain unbeaten domestically and provide formidable opposition. As we approach the midpoint of the Champions League stages we will see if Sheriff were riding the crest of a wave or if they can pull off a master coupe and upset the Champions League betting tips.