2021 European Apertura Top 25 (10 of 25)
In last year’s Champions League, Shakhtar Donetsk took 8 points from Real Madrid and Internazionale to put the latter out of European competition in one of the best groups in recent memory. This year, that trio again found themselves in the same group, this time with Moldovan debutants Sheriff FC of Tiraspol. Sheriff kicked off their first Champions League campaign with a 2-0 win against Shakhtar, suggesting they were ready to take on the Ukrainian side’s role as group spoiler. But Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid at the Bernabéu, undefeated in their opening eight matches of the season, were a different proposition.
The first half was all Madrid, with Sheriff defending resolutely—and, truth be told, more than a little luckily. But midway through the half, Sébastien Thill hit a long ball out to leftback Cristiano da Silva on the counter, and his cross to the far post was headed in by Jasurbek Yakhshiboev to put the away side ahead against the run of play. In truth, Yakhshiboev probably should have put his side two ahead on another counter around the half hour mark.
The second half was largely more of the same, with Real’s dominance continuing to mount through the hour mark. Even so, it took a controversial VAR ruling in favor of a penalty-seeking dribble by Vinicius Junior (not his first such attempt) to give Karin Benzema an equalizer from the spot. Ancelotti immediately made a triple change to pursue the win with fresh legs, and only a remarkable performance from goalkeeper Giorgos Athanasiados (and a fair helping of good fortune) kept them from doing so. But then shortly before the end of regulation, Thill hit a shot from the top of the box—in the words of Peter Drury, “the goal of his life! The goal of Sheriff’s history!”
Though Sheriff would not win another group stage match, their two opening wins allowed them to qualify for Europa League play in the new year, ahead of Shakhtar. Real Madrid followed this game with a loss to Espanyol at the weekend, undoubtedly their most troubled period of the season so far. Tactical Analysis from: Statistics FC (YouTube).