The extremes meet. The team with the most matches and most titles in the European Cup / Champions receives today the last to arrive, Sheriff Tiraspol (follow the game live on As.com). In times of club states, we may be in a state within a club. The Sheriff is part of the consortium of the same name that controls 60% of the Moldovan state economy and almost the whole of the self-proclaimed Republic of Transnistria., border territory with Ukraine and without international recognition. Sheriff owns security, banking, oil, food and sports companies and employs one in every five people in the country. The team plays in the Moldovan league (it has won 19 of the last 21 editions), but feels behind the country’s back. Most of the population speaks Russian and the president of the entity, Viktor Gushan, former police officer and supposedly of the KGB and with an estimated fortune of 2,300 million euros, is the true oligarch of a region that has grown since the allegory after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Sheriff’s star presides over everything in Transnistria. His presence is such that Juan Ferrando, the Catalan who trained the team in 2013, told Efe: “It’s wherever you go. It may seem like you live inside the club.” The character of Gushan, whose political party has 29 of the 33 deputies of the Parliament of the Republic, give an idea of statements by Romanian Florin Motroc, who played a season in the Sheriff at the end of the nineties, to Gazeta Sporturilor: “At half-time in a match, Gushan came into the locker room and dropped a grenade. Aliuta (another Romanian player on the squad) was the witness. We froze. After two or three minutes, he came back and didn’t say: “If you don’t win, the post-game grenade will be real”. He also revealed that in the negotiation of his contract there was a gun on the table.
A template from four continents
Gushan has built a multi-colored squad, with players of 19 different nationalities from four continents. The starting defense is South American, with two Brazilian full-backs, Costanza and Cristiano, and a Peruvian central defender (Dulanto) and another Colombian (Arboleda). From there, a mixture of styles with another Colombian, the midfielder Castañeda, as the most influential player. Everyone on the workforce earns salaries well above those offered by competing teams. And in the base team there is not a single Moldovan. Their coach, the Ukrainian Yuriy Vernydub, was hired in December last year and has only lost one match out of 35: “This is a team that almost always wins in the league and the goal was to make the players aware that we could reach the Champions League.”
With a counterattack football he eliminated Albanian Teuta, Armenian Alashkert, Serbian Red Star and Croatian Dinamo Zagreb without losing a match in the previous rounds. And in the first match of the group stage, he knocked down Shakhtar in his own way (2-0), with 25% possession and only three shots on goal by eleven Ukrainians. A team with a strong defensive vocation and specialized forwards in the counterattack awaits Madrid, who arrives as the unusual leader of the group.
A pin to the rescue
The white team returns to the Bernabéu in the Champions League 580 days later. His last European game there was against Guardiola’s City in the second round of the 19-20 season (1-2).
The meeting, a priori the least problematic of the group, will allow the return of Kroos, unpublished this year due to a pubalgia and top passer of the last Champions League. It will not be a starter but it will have minutes. Among the expected changes is that of the right back, because Valverde did not work there against Villarreal. Maybe I’ll go back to midfield. He says that Lucas Vázquez will return and also that there will be no rest for Benzema, that if he scores today he will pass to Raúl and he will be the fourth historic scorer of the tournament. As for Madrid, the Champions League is their home.