Transnistria, a separatist republic, enjoys the Champions League’s “Fairytale” atmosphere.
This autumn, fans of European heavyweights Real Madrid and Inter Milan will see their teams face an unexpected opponent: a club from a small breakaway territory in Moldova, one of Europe’s lesser-known countries.
Sheriff FC will make their Champions League debut this week, after a couple of failed efforts. They are the first team from the ex-Soviet country to reach the group stage.
However, their historic success is exposing divisions in the aftermath of a brief civil war that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the emergence of Transnistria.
Sheriff may continue to play in the Moldovan league despite the fact that the tiny breakaway state has its own currency, border police, army, and cellular network.
The qualification was dubbed “EUROFANTASTIC!!!” by the Moldovan football federation, which was echoed by sports writer Sandu Grecu, who called it a “major success for Moldovan football.”
Not everyone is ecstatic.
Cristian Jardan, a sports journalist, told AFP, “I don’t see much cause to be happy.”
“The team represents a separatist enclave where corruption, smuggling, and shadow economy deals abound, thus harming the Republic of Moldova’s budget and governmental interests.”
According to him, the Champions League spot will solely benefit Sheriff’s owners — “and nothing else.”
The young club situated in the breakaway region’s administrative centre, Tiraspol, was founded in 1997 and has steadily risen to prominence.
They’ve won six consecutive Moldovan league titles, as well as 19 of the last 21.
Coach Yuriy Vernydub was still processing Champions League qualification at a training session last weekend at Sheriff Stadium, which will shortly host the likes of Karim Benzema and Lautaro Martinez.
The 55-year-old Ukrainian told AFP, “Honestly, I didn’t expect it.” “It’s a fairytale,” says the narrator.
He realized that the situation had political connotations, but he was optimistic about the opportunity it gave.
The 55-year-old stated, “People claim sport isn’t politics.” “Sport is a form of politics.”
He predicted that the games will “probably unite” Moldovan and Transnistrian fans.
The team has competed in Europe’s second-tier competition, the Europa League, four times since 2009, and has twice been eliminated in the Champions League qualifying rounds.
They earned a coveted Champions League group stage spot this year, as well as approximately 16 million euros ($19 million) in guaranteed prize money.
It’s a huge investment for a team whose complete roster is worth only 12 million euros ($14 million) and is dwarfed by its Group D opponents.
Real Madrid, according to the specialist website Transfermarkt, has. Brief News from Washington Newsday.