Underdogs of Europe


When one thinks about football, the first thing that comes to mind are Europe’s top teams: Bayern Munich, Juventus, Liverpool, or Paris Saint Germain. But the night of September 28th saw the clash between one of the prominent clubs Real Madrid and the first-time Champions League group stage contestants; F.C Sheriff Tiraspol at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. The popular opinion: victory for the Madrid team. However, to the surprise of the 24,522 fans at the stadium and the rest of the football world, the game did not end in favor of the Spanish giants. 

The game began at 21.00 CET with the Belgian referee Lawrence Visser’s whistle. The game was predominantly controlled by the home team, with Real Madrid having sent 31 shots to the opposition’s goal, of which 11 of them were on target. Unexpectedly, the home team conceded a goal during the 25th minute of the game, scored by the right-winger Jasurbek Yakhshiboev. During the second half of the game, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema leveled the score by sending the penalty ball to F.C. Sheriff’s net at the 65th minute. The game was coming to an end as a draw until Sebastien Thill’s surprise goal at the 89th minute of the game. Despite the Real Madrid dominancy, F.C. Sheriff’s rigid structure and effective strikes brought the 2 goal victory for the visiting side. Why have we never heard of this team before?

F.C. Sheriff don’t have a long club history. Founded in 1997 by a former policeman, the football club is based in the city of Tiraspol in Transnistria, a breakaway-state from Moldova. Although the club started their journey in the third division, it did not take them long to climb through the ranks of Moldovan football and reach the nation’s top league: Divizia Națională. The club has fought for a place in European championships for years, finally succeeding in 2009 when they qualified for the UEFA Europa League – however, their biggest achievement came this year when they qualified for the group stages of the UEFA Champions League for the very first time. Being Europe’s top football tournament, the Champions League is often dominated by the leading edge clubs of Europe. The only winners of the league from Eastern Europe so far are FK Crvena Zvezda in 1991 from Serbia and Steaua București FC from Romania in 1986. 

This year is very unconventional in the Group D of the Champions League. The Tiraspol representatives managed to reach the group stages by defeating their strong opponent Dinamo Zagreb by 3-0 on aggregate. F.C. Sheriff continued their winning streak in the group stage, beating Shakhtar Donetsk by 2-0 and very recently beating Real Madrid by 2-1. As of October 14th, F.C. Sheriff are in first place in Group D, surpassing their favorable opponents Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk. It comes as a great surprise that a team that is only worth $15 million managed to overcome all the challenges they faced this season. As the group stages continue, football fans around the world will surely keep a close eye on the underdogs of this season: we might be looking at the next Champions League winners.