Whereas Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donest are two all too familiar opponents from an Inter perspective, it’s a fair bet that few had heard of the team next up on the Nerazzurri’s itinerary before the group-stage draw. Sheriff Tiraspol, originally thought to be no more than a basement dweller in Group D, has stunned the footballing world and finds itself leading the group with a 100% record in its first-ever Champions League journey.
Inter, meanwhile, is rooted to the floor of the group a pair of contrasting performances but equally frustrating results. The Nerazzurri was felled by a late Rodryo winner in a 1-0 home defeat to Real Madrid in which it deserved so much more before a road draw in Ukraine where the good guys were fortunate to escape with a point. For Sheriff, however, its first two games on Europe’s biggest stage have been a story of consistency. The Moldovan side beat Shakhtar 2-0 and conquested the famed Santiago Bernabéu 2-1 via an 89th-minute game-winner. But despite the underdog fairytale, Sheriff isn’t the club for football purists both on and off the pitch. An impenetrable bunker has tripped up everyone from Karim Benzema to Shakhtar’s Brazilian offensive troop, while a lethal counterattack has wreaked havoc on the other end. Sheriff has averaged 24.5% possession per game and is last across the Champions League in touches (820), passing accuracy rate (69.9%) and both completed and attempted passes. Tiraspol’s expected goals of 1.00xg is the lowest but it has the fifth-highest expected goals against (4.2xga). In short, their luck is destined to run out eventually and if Inter is to have any chance of advancing, it won’t even last until kickoff Tuesday.
Equally as interesting as Sherrif’s story on the pitch is what has transpired on the wastelands and pastures of Moldova. Sheriff is located in the unrecognized breakaway nation-state of Transnistria and was founded in 1997 by Sheriff, a company created by two ex-KGB agents. The company has an almost complete monopoly over Transnistria and holds considerable influence in politics and sports, running everything from gas stations and supermarkets to publishing houses. Sheriff’s home stadium (predictably known as Sheriff Stadium) cost $200 million, while the rest of Moldovan football barely scrapes by. With such financial backing at its hands, it's no surprise that Sheriff has been dominant on the domestic stage. It has won the Moldovan National Division 19 times, including six straight titles since 2015. Sheriff’s success becomes more and more convincing each year. It finished last season with 99 points, 32 wins, 1 loss, 116 goals scored, and 7 conceded in 36 games. Rory Smith’s New York Times article on the club put it perfectly; “Watching from Moldova, it is not a fairy tale about a plucky hero, but quite the opposite. It is the final victory of the giant.”
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Inter Milan 3-1 Sheriff Tiraspol
A brace from Lautaro Martinez will send Inter back into the win column and put the brakes on Sheriff’s hot start.