As the referee blew the full-time whistle on Tuesday night at the Santiago Bernabeu, wild scenes unfolded. No, it wasn’t a stroll in the park for European kings. Rather they had heads in their hands. Huffing and puffing, they were trying to make sense as to what hit them. Slowly, they realized that they were beaten by Sheriff Tiraspol. The mighty Real Madrid were humbled by minnows Sheriff in what might be one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Champions League.
The game was a classic David vs Goliath with Real Madrid entering as heavy favourites. Sheriff won their opening fixture but it was seen as a one-off. No one, not even Sheriff themselves believed that they could leave the Spanish capital with all three points. But in the beautiful game, anything is possible. Come 90 minutes, through absolute grit and determination there was sheer jubilation. Sheriff now tops their Group with two victories in two games.
This is the magic of the Champions League. The famous tournament is known for producing such major upsets. Real Madrid’s president Florentino Perez claimed that the Champions League gets interesting only in the knockout stages. He wouldn’t forget this match any time soon though. Perhaps it might have slipped his memory there have been many such upsets in the Champions League.
THE BIGGEST ONE OF THEM ALL
“New Sheriffs in town” was gleefully uttered by a commentator when Sheriff sealed their Champions League spot. The Moldovan club were drawn in the Champions League for the first time in their history. They underwent some struggle to get there. The club formed in 1997, rose through the ranks slowly before becoming the unstoppable force in the Moldovan National Division.
Though they were the reigning champions year after year, the UEFA League coefficient meant that they need undergo many rounds of qualification just to get to the group stage. The Moldovian club went through four two-legged ties to reach the cup proper.
History is made! 🇲🇩
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) August 25, 2021
Yet when they saw the draw, their heart must’ve stopped for a millisecond. They were drawn with European kings Real Madrid, reigning Italian champions Inter Milan and one time Europa League champions Shakhtar.
But Sheriff showed no signs of nerves when they met Shakthar at home. Goals from Adama Traore and Yansane gifted their first-ever victory in the famed league at the first time of asking. Then they were on the travels to Santiago Bernabeu for their first away trip in the Champions League.
Real Madrid rotated heavily on the night. Carlo Ancelotti was confident that his make-shift side would get the job done. Given he brought in Eden Hazard and Fede Valverde, it was supposed to become easier.
Cristiano returned to Bernabeu but on the opposing side as the left-back floated in a beautiful cross for striker Yakhshibaev to nod home. The Moldovans were sitting back continuously. Madrid landed blow after blow but they refused to budge. But they conceded a penalty just past the hour mark which Karim Benzema happily converted.
But Sebastien Thill had the moment of his life just a minute away from full time. The Luxembourg international fired a left-footed half volley and the effort seared past Thibaut Courtois. Wild celebrations were sparked as manager Yuriy Vernydub joined them as well.
In a game where they had only 24% possession, Sheriff were fearless and resilient to cause one of the biggest if not the biggest upsets in the history of the Champions League.
A RICH HISTORY OF UPSETS
Champions League is not the best tournament in the world for no reason. Football is dominated by superpowers often. Even recently, the rich teams are running away with the titles. But it’s not a stroll as they are made to sweat on the way.
The small clubs bring incredible stories and emotions with them while coming into this competition. Most recently Liverpool visited the Serbian capital of Belgrade in 2018 to face Crvena Zvezda. Jurgen Klopp’s formidable red machine was gaining force and would eventually go on to conquer Europe.
Full-time and it finishes Red Star Belgrade 2-0 Liverpool.
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) November 6, 2018
But the reputations and names wouldn’t matter as the hosts ran riot around Liverpool’s defence. A first-half brace from Pavkov was enough to secure a 2-0 win that would go down as their biggest ever Champions League triumph. It was a wonderful occasion for many of the home team players as a majority of them work in local factories during their off days.
In a game that defied logic in 2012, Scottish powerhouses Celtic bet Barcelona 2-1. Tito Vilanova’s Barcelona were oozing with superstars and Celtic boss Neil Lennon jokingly said that Barcelona could bring legends whereas he could bring on a kid signed for €500k.
Throwback to when Celtic hosted Barcelona at Celtic Park in 2012. pic.twitter.com/39BlIwxUfw
— Coral (@Coral) November 23, 2016
Barcelona made a bright start to the game but it was Victor Wanyama who drew first blood when he headed home. An inspired Fraser Forster was keeping legendary players like Lionel Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro and Alexis Sanchez at bay. Toni Watt had the moment of his life as he completed a counter by burying the ball in the back of the net late in the game. Though Lionel Messi scored in stoppage time it proved to be a mere consolation.
The stat chart of the game resembles a FIFA game scorecard when it comes to possession and shooting stats. This game also symbolizes how Sheriff stay off the ball for long periods of game before springing back to life on a counter.
Perhaps Sheriff can look to mould their season from APOEL Nicosia’s miracle run in 2012. The Cyprus side are a real team and made waves in 2012 when they reached the quarterfinals. They started their journey in the qualifiers as well before reaching the group stages.
APOEL unexpectedly topped their group and became the first Cyprus side to reach the knockouts in the Champions League. They booked a round of sixteen date with Lyon. The minnows were on fire as they beat the French club on penalties after a 1-1 draw over two legs.
— APOEL FC (@apoelfcofficial) March 7, 2018
However, their dream wasn’t to be continued as Real Madrid bashed them 8-2 across two legs in the quarters. Despite the gulf in class, APOEL put a great show of character while facing Madrid.
Sheriff can draw inspiration from the above examples and might go on to cause few more upsets in the Champions League.