Europe European Leagues

Sebastien Thill Once Again Silences Europe with Bernabeu Winner

Luxembourgish midfielder Sebastien Thill was on top of the world on Tuesday night as his 89th minute long-ranged screamer sealed a 2-1 win for Moldovan champions Sheriff Tiraspol away at 13-time UEFA Champions League winners Real Madrid. The three points ensured that unfancied Sheriff have won both of their opening Group D matches – however those keen with European football would know that this isn’t the first time that Thill had stunned Europe.

The date was July 4th 2017, the stage was the Europa League first qualifying round, the venue was the Stade Josy Barthel in Luxembourg City. Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers were looking to retain their slender 1-0 advantage from their qualifying first leg tie with Progres Niederkorn.

Having been promoted back into the Scottish top flight only two years before after a lengthy exile following financial troubles, Rangers were the clear favorites coming into the second leg as the Gers boast more European pedigree than their hosts and opponents, who until that point had only scored one goal and failed to win any of their European games in their history.

However, what happened next would shock Rangers to the core – an Emmanuel Francoise header in the 66th minute wiped out any advantage that Rangers had from the first leg, before Thill slammed home Progres’ second goal of the game with a well-taken free kick in the 75th minute, ensuring a 2-0 win for Progres on the night. The 2-1 aggregate loss was branded as the worst result in Rangers’ history, and a humiliated Gers saw more dismal results domestically that led to then-manager Pedro Caixinha being given the sack.

Thill and Progres would encounter Rangers again in the 2019/20 Europa League qualifiers – this time with Steven Gerrard’s men emerging out 2-0 victors on aggregate – before Thill was loaned out to FC Tambov in Russia for the 2020/21 season, playing 7 times as the cash-strapped side finished last in the Russian Premier League before they were subsequently dissolved.

After Tambov were declared bankrupt, Progres loaned out Thill once again, this time to Sheriff, where the midfielder found himself being part of the historic Sheriff squad that became the first Moldovan side to qualify to the Champions League group stage.

And a good four years after Thill had stunned Rangers and Europe, the Luxembourg international once again brought the entire continent into stunned silence, claiming an even bigger scalp in the form of Real Madrid.

With Madrid hosting a European game at the Santiago Bernabeu for the first time in 580 days, expectations were high among the Spanish faithful that the Los Blancos would reap themselves three easy points to take control of Group D.

What happened next was anything but.

Uzbekistan international Jasurbek Yakshiboev, himself also on loan at Sheriff from Legia Warsaw, gave the Transnistrians the lead in the 25th minute with a well-placed header, before Madrid equalized in the 65th minute through a Karim Benzema penalty.

With time running out, Thill blasted home a half-volley from distance that went beyond Thibaut Courtois’ reach and into the top left corner, sealing an unlikely win for Sheriff and with it, history, as Thill became the first player from Luxembourg to have scored in the Champions League proper.

As the experience of scoring the winner away at the 13-time Champions League winners clearly eclipsed his winner against Rangers four years ago, Thill voiced his delight on scoring what is the biggest goal in his career after the match.

“It’s the best and most important goal of my career, that’s for sure,” said Thill, as quoted from BBC Sport, “The side were so brave with how we played and luckily enough I was able to score a bit of a stunner. After this match, we all went crazy. There are a lot of foreigners in the club, we come from all types of countries. It’s our strength.”

With fellow Group D members Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter Milan playing out a goalless draw in Kyiv, Sheriff took outright control of the group with 6 points from two games, while Madrid are second with three to their name. Inter are third and Shakhtar completed the quartet, both on one point.

Having scored two decisive goals in two matches that stunned European football, it won’t be a surprise again if Thill involved himself in the next European shock within the near future.