“We're so happy today,” said Sébastien Thill after his stunning late strike gave Moldovan champions Sheriff a 2-1 UEFA Champions League win at Real Madrid and grabbed the world’s attention.
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"It's the best and most important goal of my career, that's for sure!" said Sébastien Thill after hitting Sheriff’s stunning late winner at Real Madrid to create one of the biggest shocks in UEFA Champions League group stage history.
The Moldovan champions raised some eyebrows on Matchday 1 when they won 2-0 at home against Shakhtar Donetsk, but gave even more dramatic testimony to the group stage’s ability to surprise when they beat Real Madrid 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabéu.Grassroots week in Chişinău
Under pressure throughout, the group stage debutants took an unexpected lead through Jasurbek Yakhshiboev but were pegged back by a 65th-minute Karim Benzema penalty. However, some shaky Madrid finishing and superb work from goalkeeper Giorgos Athanasiadis kept Sheriff in the game, allowing Thill to smash in a 90th-minute winner from the edge of the box.
"We're so happy today,” said Thill, who also became the first Luxembourger to score in the group stage of the most prestigious club competition in world football, the 27-year-old having also impressed as his side have climbed the UEFA Nations League rankings in recent years. “We played a really good game. The side were so brave with how we played and luckily enough I was able to score a bit of a stunner."
Sheriff’s Ukrainian coach Yuriy Vernydub was overwhelmed after the final whistle and delighted to have seen his side prove their class. “I'm happy to have played a game like that against Madrid,” he said. “I'm so full of emotion and grateful to my boys for what they've done. They went out there as a side, and we deserved it."
Vernydub’s side sit top of Group D after two games, and are proving that the group stage is rarely a formality, even for the most prestigious clubs in Europe. “We lost because of small details, even though the side played well,” said Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti. “I think that in the end, everything went well for them and bad for us."
However, if Europe is celebrating what seems like a miraculous success, Sheriff captain Frank Castañeda was eager to point out that it was no fluke. "We came here to win,” said the Colombian forward. “We didn't just come here to sit around. We know how good our players are and luckily for us Madrid weren't able to take their chances and we took ours."
Sheriff are the centre of the footballing world’s attention after their exploit, but remain determined to create more of a stir. "We are dreaming of getting into the last 16 and that's our objective,” said Castañada. “Our attention now turns to Inter on Matchday 3 and we'll work hard in order to ensure we keep getting positive results."
A good week for football in Moldova
UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin was in Moldovan capital Chişinău last week, when he was asked about Sheriff reaching the group stages of European football's most prestigious competition.
"It's a great success story for Moldovan football. Although we all follow football, we were all surprised in a way by the success of Sheriff, but now we are not surprised anymore," he said.
"After the qualifiers, where they won against teams that have ten times their budget, and now they won in the Champions League against teams that had 30 times bigger budget. Big respect to the club, it's a big thing."
President Čeferin was in Moldova to kick off UEFA's Grassroots Football Week at a Football in Schools event alongside former stars Luís Figo, Robbie Keane, Maxwell and Nadine Kessler, as well as 70 football-mad schoolchildren.
With more investment than ever before into grassroots football, and more than 500 pitches built across Moldova thanks to UEFA HatTrick support, those children and countless more can now dream of emulating Sheriff's unprecedented achievements.