The Champions League returns this week with the competition’s most decorated club looking to secure their place in the last 16 for the 25th season in a row.
Real Madrid, who have lifted the trophy a record 13 times, require just a point from their trip to Moldova to face FC Sheriff Tiraspol.
On paper, this does not appear to be the most difficult of tasks for the Spanish giants, however the competition debutants will have other ideas.
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The underdogs, only founded in 1996, first shocked the world by beating both Red Star Belgrade and Dinamo Zagreb to qualify for the group stage, before showing they weren’t just there to make up the numbers by beating Shakhtar in their opening game.
Travelling to Spain for their second game, few gave them a prayer against Carlo Ancelotti’s side, but the Moldovans refused to be overawed by their Bernabeu surroundings as Sebastian Thill’s stunning last minute half-volley secured a 2-1 win and the most famous result in the club’s short history.
“That defeat was very shocking in Madrid,” says Eurosport Spain’s Felix Martin, who believes Real Madrid made a mistake by underestimating their opponents. “I guess that the main problem was the fact that Sheriff is an unknown team and Real didn't play against them with any respect, as if the match was already won even before the start of it.
“And this is obviously a terrible mistake in the Champions League, where all teams can compete against each other.”

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 28: Players of FC Sheriff celebrate after victory in the UEFA Champions League group D match between Real Madrid and FC Sheriff at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 28, 2021 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/

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Real have suffered no further setbacks in Group D, winning three of their other four matches to head the table, but thanks to that shock defeat, the situation is somewhat precarious heading into the last two games.
Behind Real on nine points sit Italian champions Inter on seven, while the Moldovan upstarts are third on six, with all three teams in contention for a second-round place.
Despite their lofty status, the trip to the Bolshaya Sportivnaya Arena is anything but a formality for the Spanish side.
“They're quite a competitive team and Real needs to win to seal their qualification for the knockout stage given how close the situation of their group is,” says Martin.
The surprise defeat on matchday two did seem to give Real a welcome kick up the backside with back-to-back wins over Shakhtar giving them command of the group.
Domestically, despite a defeat to Espanyol just days after the loss to Sheriff, Ancelotti’s team dropped just two points in their next five games and currently find themselves on top of La Liga, a point clear of Real Sociedad having played a game fewer.

Real Madrid player Benzema and Vinicius Junior

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Any fears over the club’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated as they look to propel themselves back to the summit of both Spanish and European football.
“Ancelotti said the other day that Modric, Kroos and Casemiro have been doing things that he doesn't ask them to do,” says Martin on the team’s upturn in form. “I guess that this is the key, giving this freedom to top players like them, or Vinicius or Benzema has been great for Real Madrid's performance this year.”
The prodigious Brazilian youngster has gone from strength to strength this season and developed a blossoming partnership with his French team-mate with the pair so far bagging 24 goals between them this season.
“Vinicius has started this season like a rocket, he has improved his finishing a lot, and his dribbling and connection with Benzema are definitely a good thing for Real Madrid - even if Hazard is still far from the level we all expected from him.”
Should they get the required result against Sheriff and progress to the next round of the Champions League, Martin has no doubt Ancelotti and Real will be gunning for number 14.
“I see some other teams that seem to be stronger. Mainly PSG, Manchester City and Bayern. But yes, Real are serious candidates to win the Champions League if they manage to get to the latter rounds of the knockout stages.”
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