From breakaway state to the Bernabeu: the rise of FC Sheriff

Madrid, Sep 24 (EFE).- Sheriff Tiraspol’s historic outing at the Santiago Bernabeu this week will put the Moldovan club firmly on the map of elite European football.

Ironically, Real Madrid fans would be hard pressed to locate Tiraspol on an actual map of Europe.

Winner of the Moldovan National Division year after year and listed by Uefa as Moldovan, everything is pointing to Moldova. Well, yes. And also no. Depends.

Despite its total dominance of the Moldovan league, the club does not identify as Moldovan.

Instead, it represents Tiraspol, the capital of the unrecognized breakaway Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, more commonly known as Transnistria.

This sliver of land east of the Dnieper river from Moldova’s capital Chisinau refused to give up sovereignty after the fall of the Soviet Union, resulting in war with Moldova that ended in a state of frozen conflict to this day.

When Real Madrid travel to Tiraspol for the away leg of the Uefa Champions League group stage encounter, they will do so despite the recommendation of the Spanish foreign ministry to avoid Transnistria as it is a “risk zone” not controlled by Moldovan authorities.

Tourist visits to Transnistria are tightly controlled and the Soviet past feels very present in the region, where the passports, the buildings, the de facto border controls and even its currency still bear the hammer and sickle.

In Tiraspol, statues of Lenin dot the streets and many locals speak Russian, not Moldovan.

The Russian tricolor flag is the second standard of Transnistria after the official flag, unchanged since the Moldovan SSR.

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