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Starry-eyed Sheriff promising to punch above their weight in their UEFA Champions League group stage debut

"I think this is not the last of our achievements," says Sheriff coach Yuriy Vernydub ahead of Moldova's first UEFA Champions League group stage campaign.

Sheriff celebrate their shock play-off success against Dinamo Zagreb
Sheriff celebrate their shock play-off success against Dinamo Zagreb Getty Images

"These are unforgettable feelings," Sheriff's 38-year-old goalkeeper Serghei Paşcenco tells UEFA.com as he looks ahead to his side's first UEFA Champions League group stage campaign. "Euphoria fills all of us. All club staff and Tiraspol citizens still feel it."

The 19-time champions of Moldova, Sheriff have seen regular action in the UEFA Europa League, but made a stunning step up in class this season, eliminating Albania's Teuta, Alashkert of Armenia and then Serbia's Crvena zvezda in qualifying before creating the sensation of the play-offs, beating Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 at home and then drawing 0-0 in Croatia to make it to the next level.

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Highlights: Dinamo Zagreb 0-0 Sheriff (2 mins)

There were emotional scenes after that decider, as the club's Ukrainian coach Yuriy Vernydub tells UEFA.com: "Those were the tears of real men. Those were really happy tears. [The players] didn't realise what exactly had happened back then. Nor did I. Only now can we think calmly about it. For the club, Sheriff, this is something really big."

"My phone was going crazy, it really was," adds the well-travelled Paşcenco, who started his career at Sheriff and returned for a fifth spell in 2018. "It was people from my former clubs and the countries I've previously played in, people from Moldova, from the national team, those that play at other clubs here. I genuinely didn't see them until the morning. I was probably in shock!"

Highlights: Sheriff 3-0 Dinamo Zagreb (2 mins)

The draw has been pretty brutal to the side from Tiraspol, pitting them against Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk and then continental giants Real Madrid and Inter. Paşcenco does not mind, though: "It's great. The group is an extremely motivating group to show what we are capable of and play honourably with top teams."

The club's Colombian captain Frank Castañeda, meanwhile, insists Sheriff are not a side to be underestimated. "We're the surprise package in this competition," he tells UEFA.com. "We're the new team and I think we'll do a great job. We've knocked out historic teams like [Crvena zvezda] and Dinamo Zagreb. We've been pulling off upsets in every match, and this stage won't be an exception."

Vernydub has managed to stitch a multinational squad together into a unified team, and he is hoping that by honouring their principles, Sheriff can continue to spring surprises. He explains: "The philosophy is simple: to not cheat in football, to love football and to work hard to the best of your abilities. I think this is not the last of our achievements; I really hope and believe in it."

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