Moldovan side Sheriff Tiraspol pulled off a remarkable 2-1 win away to Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday, snatching a shock victory thanks to a sensational 89th-minute strike from Sebastien Thill.
Competition debutants Sheriff went ahead against the 13-time 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.
Sheriff closed with +2700 odds at Caesars Sportsbook, making it the largest underdog to win in the last three Champions League seasons. The previous biggest upset was Shakhtar Donetsk beating Madrid in the group stage last year at +1300 odds.
“We believed we could win. I spoke to my teammates as captain, motivating them, saying ‘why not dream?’ This is football,” Sheriff Tiraspol captain Frank Castaneda said. “Real Madrid are historic but on the pitch it’s 11 vs. 11. We went for the win and got it.”
Goalkeeper Georgios Athanasiadis, 28 — who plays for Sheriff on loan from AEK Athens — was named UEFA’s Man of the Match for a display that saw him make ten saves.
“I’m really happy,” he said. “It’s very difficult to play against these teams, the best in the world. I’m emotional, if I carry on talking much longer, I’ll end up crying.”
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 spot kick 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 far top corner.
“It’s the type of game where when you have total control it’s the little details that decide it,” said Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti. “That cost us the game. It can be a good lesson for the future, a game like this, the details cost you. A throw in, a cross, a corner, a pointless foul… They cost you. We lost and the team didn’t deserve it, honestly, for what we did.”
Sheriff, from the unrecognised breakaway state of Transnistria, top Champions League Group D with six points from two games while Real are second with three.
Sheriff came through four rounds of qualifying to become the first Moldovan team to play in the group phase of Europe’s elite club competition and had surprised a highly experienced Champions League side in Shakhtar Donetsk to win their opening game 2-0.
They faced an unbeaten Real side and were outplayed for most of the game but pulled off the biggest result in their 24-year history, making the most of their few chances and relying on a few top-drawer saves from Athanasiadis.
Real made a strong start and Vinicius and Benzema each went close to giving them the lead, Athanasiadis making the first of many saves to tip a stinging shot from Benzema over the bar.
But Ancelotti’s side were outdone on the counter when Cristiano tore down the left wing and crossed to the unmarked Yakhshiboev, who headed into the net.
Real continued to threaten with Benzema and Vinicius each fizzing shots just off target before halftime, although Yakhshiboev could have scored again down the other end following a glaring error from the hosts’ keeper Thibaut Courtois.
The Spaniards looked set to go on to win the game after Benzema levelled from the spot, but Sheriff had the ball in the net again through substitute Bruno, although the goal was ruled out for offside.
Modric was then thwarted by Athanasiadis, who saved a thumping shot from the Croatian with his face, before Brazilian forward Rodrygo fired narrowly over the bar.
A Real winner looked inevitable but instead it came down the other end when Thill tried his luck from the edge of the box, scoring the most important goal in his club’s brief history.
“Sheriff defended well, very tight at the back,” Ancelotti said. “They forced us to go outside. But we combined well, we got in behind, a lot of crosses, what we didn’t go well was the little details, we could have been more focused.”