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Sheriff make history as first Moldovan side to reach Champions League group stage

23:43 BST 25/08/2021
Sheriff Dinamo Zagabria Champions
The club completed a marathon qualifying process by holding Dinamo Zagreb to a draw in order to qualify for the first round proper

FC Sheriff wrote their names into Champions League history on Wednesday as they clinched Moldova's first-ever group stage berth. 

The club went into the second leg of their play-off against Dinamo Zagreb in a commanding position and only needed to avoid defeat to be assured of their spot. 

A 0-0 draw in Croatia was sufficient to write a new chapter in the story of one of Europe's most intriguing football clubs. 

A marathon journey

Sheriff were certainly made to work for their berth alongside heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, Juventus and holders Chelsea. 

Having begun the 2021-22 Champions League in the first qualifying phase, the Moldovans had to negotiate three rounds and six games in order to set up this final clash before the group phase. 

The club dispatched Teuta of Albania, champions of Armenia Alashkert and Serbian giants Red Star Belgrade prior to taking on Dinamo, and their hopes of an improbable place in the first round proper received a giant boost last week when the Croatians were thrashed 3-0 in Tiraspol. 

Wednesday's goalless draw was therefore sufficient for Sheriff to go through at Dinamo's expense, prompting jubilant scenes of celebration on the pitch. 

Moldova's finest - sort of

The club has long enjoyed a pre-eminent position in Moldovan football, winning nine of the last 10 titles and six in a row from 2015 onwards.

Whether or not Sheriff is actually in Moldova, however, is a matter of dispute. Tiraspol is the capital of Transnistria, a breakaway state located on the Moldovan-Ukrainian border in which the majority of its citizens are ethnic Russians rather than Moldovans.

While unrecognised by any member of the United Nations - although Russia maintains a consulate and army presence - Transnistria is run as a de facto semi-independent presidential republic, while in 2014 its parliament issued a failed request to form part of Russia following the occupation and annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region. 

As a further curiosity, it is the only state in the world which continues to use the Soviet hammer and sickle symbol on its national flag.

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