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Captain Frank Castaneda has helped lead Sheriff Tiraspol into the Champions League group stage for the first time
Captain Frank Castaneda has helped lead Sheriff Tiraspol into the Champions League group stage for the first time

Sheriff Tiraspol made history last month, by becoming the first Moldovan side to reach the Champions League group stage.

The club — founded by the Sheriff security company in the breakaway state of Transnistria — are only 25 years old but have won the Moldovan National Division 19 times since their formation.

They joined this season’s Champions League in the first qualifying round. The journey from those early rounds to the group stage can be long and arduous, which is why few teams make it all the way through.

But Sheriff managed it this time with relative ease in most games, bar a narrow 2-1 aggregate victory against Red Star Belgrade in the third round.

They then saw off Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 in the home leg of the play-off to reach the group stage, before securing their passage with a 0-0 draw in the Croatian capital.

Sheriff's Champions League group

Group D: Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sheriff Tiraspol

European history

As perennial champions of Moldova, Sheriff have featured in the Champions League qualifying rounds on numerous occasions but had failed to make the group stage until now.

They have appeared in the group stage of the Europa League four times — never making it into the knockout rounds.

For the past three campaigns, they have dropped from the Champions League qualifiers to the Europa League and failed to reach the groups.

But nothing was going to stop them this season as they made it all the way through with a combined aggregate score of 14-2 in their qualifying games.

Yuriy Vernydub romped to the title during his first season in charge of Sheriff Tiraspol
Yuriy Vernydub romped to the title during his first season in charge of Sheriff Tiraspol

Expectations

Sheriff’s reward for qualification was to be drawn in a group with Inter Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk, and the most successful club in European Cup history, Real Madrid.

It is no surprise they will be tipped to finish bottom of the pile, with Inter and Shakhtar also well versed in continental football.

So the expectations will be merely to hold their own, put on a show in Transnistria, and relish this opportunity to face three of the biggest names in continental football.

Full-back Cristiano will often be seen bombing forward down the left flank
Full-back Cristiano will often be seen bombing forward down the left flank

Star man: Frank Castaneda

Frank Castaneda, 27, racked up the goals for Sheriff last season, scoring 28 in 35 league appearances.

He has been a bit slower off the mark this season domestically but already has two goals and an assist in the Champions League qualifiers.

The Colombian also captains the side in what is only his second season at the club, having signed from Slovakian outfit Senica in 2019.

Sheriff's Colombian skipper Frank Castaneda was highly influential in Sheriff's success last season
Sheriff's Colombian skipper Frank Castaneda was highly influential in Sheriff's success last season

One to watch: Keston Julien

Sheriff will likely spend a lot of the time in Champions League games without the ball but will hope to spring forward on the counter.

Their full-backs could be key to this counter-attacking progress and Trinidadian left-back Keston Julien is certainly one to keep an eye on.

Julien, 22, has three caps for his country and started every game for Sheriff in qualifying, bar the second leg against Dinamo Zagreb.

He suffered a hamstring injury in the first leg of that tie but the former AS Trencin defender will hope to be recovered in time to take part in these historic group games.

The boss: Yuriy Vernydub

Yuriy Vernydub took over from Zoran Zekic last December and successfully guided the club through their Champions League qualifiers this summer.

The Ukrainian manager, 55, spent 10 years with Zorya Luhansk — first as an assistant and for eight years as boss — before moving to Belarusian outfit Shakhtyor Soligorsk and eventually to Sheriff last season.

He currently has an 80.7% win rate with his current side and though that is likely to drop during this Champions League campaign, simply qualifying for the competition is one of the biggest achievements in the club’s history.

All information correct as of 10am, September 15, 2021

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10:10 (+00:00)16 Sep 2021 (Thu)