BY JEFREY CANOVA, SPORTS STAFFER.
FC Sheriff Tiraspol did the unthinkable as they beat Real Madrid at the famed Estadio Santiago Bernabeu for the first time in their history.
FC Sheriff’s victory is labeled as one of the biggest upsets based on the history between the two clubs. FC Sheriff is the first Moldovan club to represent in the UEFA Champions League for the first time and Real Madrid, the thirteen-time Champions League winner.
By many, FC Sheriff was the clear underdog of the group as they were placed with group favorites, Real Madrid and Inter Milan, including 3rd place favorite, FC Shakhtar Donetsk. Surprisingly, that has not been the case.
They sit top of the group with all six points after matchday 2 of the UEFA Champions League group stages, thanks to a 2-0 win against Shaktar and a historic 2-1 victory against Real Madrid.
Real Madrid welcomed the Moldovan football club to their home ground, two years after its near-completed stadium remodeling and shutdown during the pandemic. Sitting top of La Liga, Real Madrid came in as the favorites based on their magical form for the start of the season, scoring 21 goals in just eight games throughout all competitions, including a crucial 1-0 victory against Inter Milan on matchday 1. Instead, Real Madrid faces themselves encountering a rough patch and continuing concerns around the squad.
After a slow start from Real Madrid, Los Merengues saw themselves losing 1-0 after a brilliant counter-attack from Sheriff, finished by a thunderous header from Djasur Yakhshi in the 25th minute. Real Madrid responded by creating chances to score by the end of the first half; however, the Sheriff’s backline survived due to an outstanding performance from their goalkeeper, Georgios Athanasiadi. Athanasiadi had ten crucial saves the entire match and received the Man of the Match award.
The second half showcased another story to the match. Real Madrid dominated the second half as Vinicius Jr., Karim Benzema, Eden Hazard, and Federico Valverde created goal-scoring chances. Frustratingly for Real Madrid fans, the ball would not enter the back of the net until Vinicius Jr.’s magical brilliance led to him getting fouled in the penalty box, earning the team a penalty. Karim Benzema, currently with 16 G/A in 9 matches, scored the penalty to tie the game at 1-1.
What seemed to be the perfect night for Karim Benzema, after becoming the fourth top scorer in the history of the UEFA Champions League, Luxembourg midfielder Sébastien Thill ended it by scoring a rocket to win the match in the 89th minute. Real Madrid’s urge to win the game after Benzema’s penalty kick was not enough. The heroics of FC Sheriff’s defense and finishing abilities earned them their biggest Champions League win.
Real Madrid was unfortunate not to come away with a point, as they had 31 total shots and 76% of the possession. Meanwhile, FC Sheriff had a mere 4 total shots and 24% possession. The excellent performance from Sheriff’s defense and goalkeeper, who prevented Real from scoring from open play, earned Sheriff the win. Real Madrid manager, Carlo Ancelotti, voiced his conclusions by praising the team’s intensity and improvements for future matches:
“This could be a good lesson for the future. We’re talking about a defeat when the team didn’t deserve to lose, given how we performed. Sheriff defended really well and were tight at the back. We linked up well and broke through their backline many times and sent over many crosses. Where we let ourselves down was on the fine details. We’ve lost the game because we had a bit of bad luck.”
For FC Sheriff, “underdog” never ran through the team’s mindset, thanks to team captain Frank Castaneda:
“We believed we could win. I spoke to my teammates as captain, motivating them, saying ‘why not dream?’ This is football” Casteneda claimed. “Real Madrid are historic, but on the pitch, it’s 11 vs. 11. We went for the win and got it.”
As it stands, Group D has FC Sheriff top of the group with six points, Real Madrid second in the group with three points, and both Inter Milan and FC Shakhtar Donetsk only receiving 1 point after matchday 2.
In search of their 20th Moldovan league title, FC Sheriff will return to action against Milsami. Although they are 3rd in the league, FC Sheriff has four games in hand and is only 9 points away from league leaders FC Petrocub.
Besides the two recent results, Los Merengues still finds themselves in great shape to compete for the La Liga title. Real Madrid will return to action against RCD Espanyol, with Real sitting top of the league by one point ahead. Carlo Ancelotti’s side will have to adjust in the defense if they don’t want to see disappointing results again. Real Madrid’s maestro midfielder, Toni Kroos, returned as he made an appearance as a substitute against Sheriff. With his return, the club’s chances to win increase if he can get back into rhythm.