These days, most Champions League group games are David vs Goliath affairs, such is the disgusting gulf between the haves and have-nots in the competition.
However, even by 2021’s sickening standards of financial disparity, it is hard to conjure up of two more contrasting sides than Real Madrid and Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova.
Although the former are some way removed from the opulent Galacticos era, they still boast the tenth most expensive footballer of all time in Eden Hazard, while fellow additions like Vinicius Junior and Eder Militao both cost almost £50m.
The closest Sheriff have ever come to this calibre of player is when they signed left-back Cristiano – no, not that one – back in 2018.
On paper this should have been a home walkover.
Yet just before half-time, goalkeeper Georgios Athanasiadis – buoyed by his side’s 1-0 lead – sent the best striker in the world, Karim Benzema, for some escargot with a sumptuous Cruyff turn. This audacious piece of skill from the game’s player of the match was a sign of things with Sheriff eventually securing the most delightful Champions League shock EVER.
This embarrassment could have easily been avoided, but throughout the contest Real were guilty of complacency and arrogance.
Sheriff’s first goal was a textbook example. In the build up, Real’s press was lazy and once their opponents had bypassed their midfield with the simplest of crossfield passes, the marking in the box was criminal.
Cristiano, who showed his ability on matchday one by creating two goals, was allowed all the time in the world to pick out an unmarked Djasur Yakhshibaev at the back post, who nodded home.
Unbelievably, this was not even Sheriff’s only chance of the half. Both Thibaut Courtois and Eder Militao made errors indicative of their overly-relaxed state, allowing Yakhshibaev to fire just past the post before half time.
It was not just defensively that Real were complacent either. Vinicius Junior typified an attitude of: ‘never mind, it’s only Sheriff, another chance will come,’ when he bizarrely attempted a chip from inside the box, instead of powering it into the top corner.
The forward – who in fairness has been incredible in recent weeks – previously held onto the ball for about five seconds too long in the opening exchanges, as if he was surprised that the minnows in front of him had the audacity to try and stop him finding the perfect angle.
After the break the game continued in much the same vein. Yes, Real were creating chances and yes, Athanasiadis was playing like Sylvester Stallone in Escape to Victory, but at the back they left the door on the latch throughout.
Eventually they did grab an equaliser when Vinicius was awarded a pretty soft penalty which Benzema converted, but a winner remained elusive – largely thanks to the Rocky-esque determination from the Sheriff goalkeeper.
In the end, Real’s arrogance would again rear its ugly head and prove their undoing. Nobody was within 10 yards of Sebastien Thill when the ball broke to him following a straightforward throw-in routine, encouraging the midfielder to unleash a speculative effort that ended up careering into the top corner.
The wonder strike sealed a life-affirming victory for the underdogs and it was impossible not to feel a smattering of joy at Real’s expense. This is, after all, a club whose actions back in April – when they were one of the principal architects of the farcical Super League project – proved what we’ve known for a long time.
That being this rancid, born-to-rule, elitist super-club believe they should not have to suffer the indignity of playing clubs like Sheriff. On Tuesday night this arrogant attitude not only cost them three points, it also led to one of the most painful humiliations in the club’s history.