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Sheriff FC: Rise to the top

Have you heard of Sheriff FC? Chances are you haven't, because when you are a football club from Moldova, it's likely that not many people know you, especially across the globe. Yet this unknown team managed to make fans fall in love with them after their last Champions League tie against Real Madrid. So, how did they get here, and who are they?

Our story starts last year, when Sheriff comfortably won the Moldovan national division by a hefty 16 point difference over second-place team, Petrocub. That meant that Sheriff would go onto the Champions League qualifiers to maybe become the first Moldovan team in history to qualify for the competition. Little did they know the adventure was about to begin.

Their first two matches for the first round of the qualifiers were against KF Teuta Durrës, an Albanian team also hoping to qualify. However, Sheriff didn't allow that to happen, and won easily by 5-0 on aggregate. That meant that they were 3 rounds away from writing themselves into history. The next game was also a breeze for them, against Armenian team FC Alashkert. After a 1-0 win in the first leg, the second tie finished 3-1 for our underdogs, and so things started getting challenging for them.

Two more rounds to go, Sheriff FC’s morale was higher than it had ever been. Their penultimate opponent was FK Crvena zvezda, AKA Red Star Belgrade. They were no johnny-come-latelies to the competition, since they were the winners of the glorious Champions League in the 1991 edition. As suspected, Sheriff struggled a tad more with this matchup, with the first game ending in a 1-1 draw. This meant that the next game against Belgrade would decide if they went on to the final round or not. With a goal from Colombian defender Arboleda in the very end of the first half, Sheriff fought to hold on to their lead in the second half, and it paid off. Winning 2-1 overall, Sheriff FC were two games away from their first time going into the Champions League ever.

Last, but definitely not least, they had to beat Dinamo Zagreb, the most popular team in Croatia. They were also probably the biggest contenders to getting Sheriff eliminated from the qualifiers. The first game was Sheriff’s best chance to qualify, since they were on home turf. A nerve racking 45 minutes clash between both teams went on, until once again, in the final minute of the first half, Sheriff’s winger Traore scored to take the lead for the home team. If they just defended for 45 more minutes, they would be 90 minutes away from eternal glory. But it seemed they were thirsty for more goals. Who would have thought that by the end of the second half, Sheriff would have won by 3-0, having one step in the Champions League group stage already. Eight days later, they would face Zagreb again for the second leg. An overall boring match that ended up in a 0-0 draw meant one thing. Sheriff FC were the latest club to qualify for the best European competition out there.

Now, when they qualified for the competition, they still had plenty of challenges to get by. And the group selection was not their friend. They needed to keep their hopes high, owing to a small possibility that their group had clubs such as Malmö, which Sheriff could beat with ease. But that was not what the group selection had in store for them. Firstly they had Shakhtar Donetsk, a fairly easy opponent to beat, which was definitely relieving for Sheriff, because the other two teams were none other than the winner of the Serie A, FC Internazionale Milano, and 13 time Champions League winner, Real Madrid CF.

With all the momentum they had, beating Shakhtar was an easy feat, and a 2-0 win saw them top of group D for the first round of the Champions League. Their next match however, was not going to be easy by any means. It was none other than Real Madrid, and even worse, it was an away game. The game started off slow for Sheriff FC, as Real Madrid had three good shots on target which were gracefully saved by Sheriff’s goalkeeper, Giorgos Athanasiadis. Meanwhile, the Sheriffs were not too bad with two shots of their own. However, later into the half, a perfect header from Uzbekistani winger Jasurbek Yakhshiboev glided the ball past the reach of Courtois, which saw Sheriff take a 1-0 lead on Madrid at the end of the first half. The second half was a completely different story. Madrid were attacking a lot on the wing, and Sheriff were struggling to stop them. Madrid’s attacks gave fruit, as a fair penalty was awarded after a foul on Vinícius Junior inside the box. Benzema converted it, and the game was now tied.

The half was a colossal Madrid dominance, as they had a total of 28 shots in the second half. Yes, 28 shots. You could say that's normal if both teams are attacking at their fullest, but then, you would be surprised to see Sheriff on a single shot. The game was definitely expected to end in a tie, since both teams were not able to score under any circumstances. Madrid couldn't score due to Sheriff’s goalkeeper, and Sheriff couldn't score because of the lack of opportunities created. Sheriff FC only had to defend for a couple more minutes,and they would have tied with the best team in the history of football. Sebastien Thill on the other hand, had different plans for Sheriff. A throw in which ended up being a long pass to Thill, was converted into a volley, which glided into Courtois' top corner, and just like that, Sheriff were the latest team to beat the best one ever to exist. I am personally excited to see what they will come up with against Inter Milan next Tuesday, and if they win, they will probably qualify for the round of 16, which I am ecstatic to watch. Keep an eye on Sheriff FC everyone!


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