How Sheriff Tiraspol - the 'joke' club founded by a former KGB agent - humiliated Real Madrid

·8-min read
How Sheriff Tiraspol - the 'joke' club founded by a former KGB agent - humiliated Real Madrid - GETTY IMAGES
How Sheriff Tiraspol - the 'joke' club founded by a former KGB agent - humiliated Real Madrid - GETTY IMAGES

Real Madrid suffered one of the biggest shocks in Champions League history on Tuesday when they were beaten at home by rank outsiders Sheriff Tiraspol.

Luxembourg midfielder Sebastien Thill scored an outstanding late half-volley to snatch an unlikely victory for the Moldovan side, who are playing in the group stage for the first time.

Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti struggled to explain how his side were beaten 2-1, after having 67 per cent of the possession and 30 shots on goal to the visitors' 11.

Sheriff went ahead against the 13-times European champions in the 25th minute with a header from Uzbek midfielder Jasurbek Yakhshiboev, who narrowly missed a chance to double the visitors' lead later in the first half.

Real dominated the play in both halves but needed a penalty to draw level. Karim Benzema buried his spot-kick in the top corner in the 65th minute after Vinicius Jr was felled and awarded a penalty following a Var review, having been denied a after a previous review moments earlier.

Real substitute Luka Jovic spurned a great chance to win it for the hosts but Sheriff quickly got down the other end and following a throw-in the ball fell to Luxembourg midfielder Thill, who unleashed a lethal shot into the top corner.

"Everything went well for them while everything we did turned out badly," Ancelotti said.

"More than worried we are sad. We played with intensity and commitment but lost due to the finest details. The team played well, we could have been sharper in the area but it's difficult to explain what happened.

"The small details cost us the game and we should learn from that in the future. But this was a defeat we did not deserve."

Sheriff Tiraspol pull off biggest shock in Champions League history with late victory at Real Madrid - REUTERS
Sheriff Tiraspol pull off biggest shock in Champions League history with late victory at Real Madrid - REUTERS

Who are Sheriff?

Sheriff, from the unrecognised breakaway Moldovan state of Transnistria, came through four rounds of qualifying to become the first Moldovan team to play in the group phase of Europe's elite club competition.

The club was founded in 1997 and has dominated domestically in its 24-year existence, winning the Moldovan championship 19 times and 10 Moldova Cups.

They are named after the Sheriff corporation which was formed in 1993 after the Soviet Union's break-up and is now the second largest business in Transnistria, according to Goal.

Moldovan political expert Mihai Isac has alleged to Euronews that local oligarch Viktor Gushan who owns the corporation and club "is a former military and KGB man".

The football team's Sheriff Stadium complex was completed in 2002 and cost around £150 million. Only one other club in Moldova owns its own facilities so Sheriff has a commanding level of superiority over its national rivals.

The Sheriff Stadium complex cost around £150m - AFP
The Sheriff Stadium complex cost around £150m - AFP

Around half of the population of Transnistria have Russian citizenship and its government is close to Moscow, so the football club's success is allegedly "a considerable PR impulse in this region", Isac claimed.

He added: "The football club is involved in different actions designed to promote the relations between Transnistria and Russia. Sheriff's conglomerate controls de facto all the region, sometimes nicknamed the Republic of Sheriff."

Gushan reportedly also controls Sheriff's holding company, which owns a number of important businesses in the region, ranging from supermarkets, gas stations, caviar, textiles to communication and cryptocurrency.

Ex-diplomat Igor Munteanu alleged its goals are "soft power proposed and strongly recommended by the Russian Federation", while Anatoly Dirun, director of the Tiraspol School of Political Studies, has said Gushan is "the person with the most influence here, both in politics and economics".

Who is Sheriff's star man?

Adama Traore. No, not the one that plays for Wolves. This Traore is a Mali international who had nine goals in 16 games going into the match.

Sheriff Tiraspol pull off biggest shock in Champions League history with late victory at Real Madrid - GETTY
Sheriff Tiraspol pull off biggest shock in Champions League history with late victory at Real Madrid - GETTY

Who is their coach?

Yuriy Vernydub. He has managed the club since December 2020 and lost just two matches in his tenure.

Who is their record signing?

Marko Markovski, who was signed for £900,000 from Skoda Xanthi in 2012. But he lasted just seven months before being sent out on loan. In August 2014, his contract was ended.

Key stats

  • Sheriff Tiraspol are the first team to win their first two games in the Champions League since Leicester City in the 2016-17 campaign.

  • This was just the third ever away victory by a Moldovan team in a major European competition, following Zimbru Chisinau in the Uefa Cup in 1995 (v RAF Jelgava) and Sheriff Tiraspol themselves in the Europa League in 2017 (v Lokomotiv Moscow).

  • Sheriff Tiraspol’s Yakhshiboev became the first player from Uzbekistan to score in the Champions League since Maksim Shatskikh in December 2006, who netted a brace against Real Madrid on that occasion.

How Spanish press reacted: 'Upset rocks football universe'

Madrid's loss dominated the Spanish papers, with Sheriff's name proving an easy win for the headline writers...

AS looked for a shred of humour amid the gloom with its front page: 'The Sheriff enforces his law'.

"The marksmanship of the Moldovan champions did for a Madrid guilty of overconfidence," the paper said, adding that Real mustered nearly three times as many shots as the visitors but only managed to score from the penalty spot.

A surprisingly level-headed Marca had a split front page also featuring Atletico Madrid, who snatched a late win at AC Milan courtesy of an injury-time strike from Luis Suarez. It contrasted Real Madrid’s "crash" with Atlético's "elation".

Marca also featured a match report entitled: 'Sheriff with two guns', continuing the Wild West theme.

Online, Marca's English-language website leads with the headline 'Real Madrid locked up by Sheriff' and describes the loss as "one of the most stunning and shocking defeats in Madrid's gilded European history".

Thill's late winner will have "sent shockwaves not just through the Spanish capital but also the entire continent", according to Marca.

The front page of Barcelona-based Mundo Deportivo led with the headline 'Arrested by the Sheriff'.

While El País went for 'Sheriff blow Madrid’s mind', saying: "A historical upset rocked the football universe. The epicentre, the monumental Bernabéu. How to explain it?

"The most iconic team in the European Cup succumbed to an apprentice rival with what for many is a joke name."

Sheriff were understandably jubilant - and celebrated on Instagram, with a photoshopped image of their club crest wearing the crown from Real Madrid’s badge. Cheeky.

Back in Moldova, the news website jurnal.md ran a series of jubilant articles including the wonderfully understated: 'Fantastic! Sheriff defeats Real Madrid to go top of Group D'.

While the Tinpul newspaper led with the headline 'Sheriff Tiraspol create sensation with win at the court of Real Madrid'.

How the world reacted

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting