There was a new sheriff in Madrid, and it hails from Tiraspol.
Moldovan side Sheriff Tiraspol went into the historic Estadio Santiago Bernabéu for its first-ever Champions League away game and stunned Real Madrid in an upset that sent shockwaves through the world of soccer.
Sheriff’s rise through all four qualifying rounds to become the first Moldovan side to qualify for the group stage is a stark contrast to Real Madrid’s 13 Champions League titles—but it was the minnow that came away with the three points in the Spanish capital and tops the group that also features Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk after two matchdays.
Jasurbek Yakhshiboev opened the scoring in the 25th minute to give the Moldovan club its first lead as he ran off in celebration, holding his head in disbelief at the accomplishment.
Running down the right wing unmarked during a counterattack, the 24-year-old Uzbekistan international connected with a cross from Sheriff left back Cristiano. Yakhshiboev, on loan from Polish side Legia Warsaw, headed the ball back across goal to beat Thibaut Courtois for the opening goal.
But Real Madrid pulled one back when Vinicius’s fancy footwork in the box proved to be too much for Sheriff, as the Brazilian drew a penalty in the 65th minute. Karim Benzema then stepped to the spot and converted to move into fourth place all time on the Champions League goalscoring list with his 72nd career goal in the competition.
Benzema also became the first player in the competition’s history to score in 17 straight Champions League seasons.
Sheriff saved the drama for the very end. In the 89th minute, the Real defense switched off during a throw-in in its defensive third. The ball eventually bounced out to the edge of the 18-yard box, where Sébastien Thill was waiting for the strike of a lifetime.
Completely unmarked, the Luxembourg midfielder rocketed a half-volley into the top corner in what will surely be a goal-of-the-year contender—not to mention an all-time Champions League highlight.
Sheriff has won the Moldovan title in 19 of the past 21 seasons, but became the first Moldovan side to ever qualify for Champions League when it defeated Dinamo Zagreb in a two-leg playoff last month. The club won its first Champions League group stage game against Shakhtar Donetsk on Sept. 15.
Sheriff, the very sort of team that Real Madrid tried to bypass with the failed Super League, now sits alone in first place in Group D with six points. Tiraspol, which is the capital of the breakaway state of Transnistria, will play host to Real on Nov. 24.