This Wednesday, Sheriff Tiraspol will play in the Champions League for the first time in its history.

Historic moment tonight for Moldova on the occasion of Sheriff Tiraspol – Shakhtar Donetsk: it will be the first time that a club from the small republic of the former USSR has played in the pools of the Champions League. However, it’s a safe bet that few people in Moldova will take a passion for the course of this designated “little thumb” of the queen of European competitions, and for good reason: Sheriff Tiraspol is the club of the capital of the Transnitria, independent secessionist territory not recognized by the international community.

Transnistria, the French name for a region called by locals (and Russian speakers) Pridniestrovie, is a small strip of land of 500,000 inhabitants, of which around 150,000 live in the capital, Tiraspol. The city club has outrageously dominated Moldovan football – as the league seamlessly integrates clubs from Pridniestrovia – for more than twenty years, only missing the title twice since 2000, 2000 and 2011.

Unlike Moldova, the poorest country in Europe and the population actively flees, the secessionist region of Transnistria is doing quite well financially in comparison, thanks to numerous investments from Russia (the only country to recognize Pridniestrovia as a sovereign state). Walking in Tiraspol is a trip back in time, to the days of the USSR at the height of its power, where Chisinau, in ruins, reflects a sad image of Moldova. Viktor Gushan, president of the Sheriff industrial consortium and the Tiraspol club, is a former member of the KGB and is the main economic player in the region.

From 2017 to 2019, Ziguy Badibanga, trained at RSC Anderlecht, wore the colors of Sheriff Tiraspol and testified to the power of the club: “One of the best centers I have seen. There are about ten pitches, two stadiums, sports halls. We stay at the stadium, where there is a hotel, “he explained to Footballski in 2018. He remains the only Belgian player to have played in Moldova.

This Wednesday, Sheriff Tiraspol will therefore proudly represent Pridniestrovie in the Champions League, because we must not kid ourselves: such a showcase makes everything very political, and the theme of Transnistria remains a source of tension, especially between Russia, present militarily to ensure the integrity of this Russian-speaking language of land, and Europe.

Hence the rather crazy irony of the draw which will see the Sheriff start his campaign against Shakhtar Donetsk, a club in exile, banned from playing at home since the terrible Civil War that broke out in the Donbass between the separatists, supported by Russia, and the Ukrainian army. Unlike Sheriff Tiraspol, Shakhtar Donetsk did not become the standard bearer of the Donbass People’s Republic, but on the contrary is actively opposed to Russian influence. There will be more than football at work in Tiraspol tonight …

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