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Karim Benzema (left) of Real Madrid CF controls the ball while Keston Julien (right) looks on during 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 Berengui/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

T&T senior men's team defender Keston Julien says his FC Sheriff Tiraspol will get a little more respect now from opponents going forward following their 2-1 upset of 13-time winners Real Madrid on Match Day Two of their 2021 European Champions League Group D series on Tuesday.

In what is being called one of the greatest upsets, if not the greatest in Champions League history, the 19-time Moldovan champions who were only founded in 1997 and made up of an eclectic group of players, clinched a famous win at the Santiago Bernabéu thanks to Sebastien Thill's last-minute stunner, their second group win in as many games.

Uzbekistan midfielder Jasurbek Yakhshiboev opened the scoring in the first half with his first Champions League goal before Karim Benzema drew Real Madrid level from the penalty spot just after the hour mark.

Sheriff's Greek goalkeeper Giorgos Athanasiadis produced the game of his life, coming up with no less than ten saves as Real Madrid time and again failed to get the better of him from open play before Thill produced a stunning half-volley from outside of the area to send shockwaves around Europe.

After two matchdays, Sheriff which defeated Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 in their debut match in mid-September leads the table with a maximum of six points followed by Real Madrid with three and Inter Milan and Shakhtar, both a point each after their goalless draw in Tuesday’s other match.

A former Presentation College of San Fernando player, Julien made a late appearance against Real Madrid, coming on in the 78th minute for Colombia Frank Castaneda and helping his team to the stunning win.

By making his debut, Julien joined former national players', David Nakhid, Dwight Yorke, Marvin Andrews, Russell Latapy, Neil "Shaka" Hislop and Khaleem Hyland as T&T players to have featured in the Champions League Group Stage.

Speaking to Guardian Media Sports on Thursday, Julien said to make his debut against Real Madrid was just a crazy feeling.

He explained, “I was nervous at the moment I went onto the field but as a footballer, I kept my head calm and to be on the pitch when we scored that last-minute goal was also crazy. When the goal was scored I was shocked and then went I went to celebrate as well because to win against Real Madrid is not something every underdog team could say they did and everyone was just crazy about it."

Reflecting on his team’s win Julien, who previously played in Slovakia with Trencin noted that maybe a lot of people think they were going to lose to Real Madrid, but as a team, their coach told them what to do to come away with the win. He said: “The guys went out there and everyone stuck to the plan. Yes everyone was nervous as we were going to play against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu and it’s not a normal league game it’s a Champions League game and Real Madrid is probably the most decorated Champions League team, so we just went out there stuck to the plan and everyone worked hard and we got the three points.”

He then boasted, “People doubted us, but we went and got the job done and that last-minute goal made it even sweeter, and to know that we beat Real Madrid at the last minute in the Bernabeu was a crazy feeling for me and my team."

Looking ahead Julien said his team's win over Real Madrid is now in the past.

Asked how he feels the win over Madrid will impact his team, he replied: “At the starting of the CL group stage I think everyone thought that Sheriff was a sure three points, but I think everyone is going to show us a little bit more respect now. We can't go back and do anything, it’s a great feeling you know, but we have to focus now on the next game and we have a game on Saturday against the team (Milsami) that is first in our league (Moldovan National Division). So, it’s not going to be an easy game as they will want to beat us and we will be playing them at their home, so we need to get those three points and then on October 19th we have to play in the Champions League against Inter Milan in Milan, also a really difficult game to play.

Sheriff will end round one play in the Champions League away to Inter Milan on October 19 before second-round matches against Inter Milan on November 3; Real Madrid on November 24, and Shakhtar on December 7 at the end of which the top two clubs will qualify to the knockout-out stage.

Having featured in his team’s last three matches after a month out with a hamstring injury he sustained in the CL qualifiers Third Round, a 3-0 home win over Dinamo Zagreb, Julien said he is pleased with his performances.

Before the injury, Julien had featured for Sheriff in each of their CL qualifiers starting in July against Teuta Durress, Alashkert, Red Star Belgrade and Dinamo.

“Since recovering from injury have played three games from my left-back position and gotten two assists, so now I think I am back to my rhythm and it's just about staying mentally focus and being good physically to get my chance in the starting eleven again. I hope to start one of our remaining Champions League games but the team is doing spectacularly at the moment and I just cannot come in. So I just have to await the moment to get my chance and hopefully, when I do get my chance again I will be able to seal my spot again,” explained Julien.



Keston Julien on 'dream' Champions League debut: It was a crazy feeling.
By Joel Bailey (T&T Newsday).

FROM watching his favourite football club’s games on TV to playing against – and defeating ­– them at home in a UEFA Champions League (UCL) group stage match, T&T defender Keston Julien said it has been “a dream come true.”

The 22-year-old Gasparillo native made his UCL debut on Tuesday with Moldovan club Sheriff Tiraspol, stunning Real Madrid 2-1 in their Group D match at the Bernabeu Stadium, Madrid, Spain.

It was also his club’s UCL debut and it is the only Moldovan club to qualify for the league to date.

On August 25, Sheriff drew 0-0 in the second leg of the qualifying play-off against Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb after winning 3-0 in the first leg.

Along with Sheriff and Real Madrid, in Group D of the UCL are Shakthar Donetsk of Ukraine and Italian club Inter Milan.

Sheriff now sit atop the group with six points, having also beaten Shakhtar 2-0 on September 15.

On Tuesday, Sheriff’s Jasurbek Yakhshiboev scored in the 25th minute to give his team the lead but Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema equalised in the 65th minute from the penalty spot.

It was a bittersweet moment for Sheriff in the 72nd minute as they thought they regained the lead but Bruno’s goal was ruled out as offside.

As both teams continued to push to score the winner, Julien replaced midfielder Frank Castaneda in the 78th minute.

It was only 12 minutes later Sheriff would get redemption as Sebastien Thill scored a 90th-minute screamer to make it 2-1, which they held on to for the six minutes of additional time.

Speaking with Newsday on Thursday, he said while he was nervous, he tried his best to stay focused.

“It was just a crazy, different feeling. I could have never imagined this but this is life – things happen.

“I was nervous and I think any player would be nervous in that situation but I just kept my calm.”

Asked if he was expecting to be subbed on, he said “not really” but: “I had three good games before this game so I think the coach saw I was playing well so he gave me my chance to make my debut against Real Madrid.

“Everybody was happy for each other, teammates congratulated me on my debut...Real Madrid is my favourite club so this was a dream come true.”

He even greeted and swapped shirts with Real Madrid’s number four, David Alaba, after the game.

“Yeah, it sounds a bit crazy that I was on a team that beat my favourite team,” Julien said laughing. “When we scored (the winner), I couldn’t believe it. I had to stop for a while and then it sunk in and I went to celebrate.”

One of his footballing idols, though he did not play, is Real Madrid’s Marcelo who also plays left-back.

He said family, friends and even strangers from T&T have been sending him encouraging and congratulatory messages, for which he is thankful.

“I’m just trying to keep T&T flag flying high,” he said.

His team will face Inter Milan on October 19 which he anticipates to be a tough game but he said the team is working very hard.

“Tuesday was history but we are trying to do better and move forward as players and as a club. We are not stopping here. We are trying to go up. We are going to give our everything.

“Before the tournament started, I think everyone may have counted us out and said we easy to get the three points from (easy to defeat) but things turned around and we are at the top (of the group) and I think more teams will start to respect us now.

“So yeah, it’s really crazy, I’m excited and I am just trying to stay focused.”

Real Madrid are second in Group D with three points, followed by Inter Milan (one point) and Shakhtar (one point).

Julien previously played for Slovokian Club AS Trencin and was part of the T&T squad for the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup qualifiers earlier this year.

He is the first T&T player to play in the UCL since the 2011/2012 season following midfielder Khaleem Hyland who played for Belgian club KRC Genk.

Other T&T players to compete in this league include Dwight Yorke – who won the league with Manchester United and was the top scorer with eight goals in the 1998/1999 season – Russell Latapy with FC Porto, Marvin Andrews with Rangers FC and Justin Hoyte with Arsenal.

Meet the Trinidad and Tobago international who helped Sheriff shock Real Madrid
By Jon Arnold (

As a quick, crafty left back, Keston Julien grew up idolizing Marcelo and supporting Real Madrid.

Tuesday night, then, was a dream come true as the Trindad and Tobago native set foot on the field of the Bernabéu, making his debut in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. Just…not for Real Madrid.

The Port of Spain native achieving the dream seems beyond imagination, as did the idea Julien’s club Sheriff, a team nominally and technically from Moldova but a symbol of pride for the breakaway republic of Transnistria, would beat Real Madrid.

Yet, 10 minutes after Julien came into the match, he was celebrating teammate Sebastien Thill’s 89th minute goal to do just that, putting Sheriff atop a group that in addition to Los Blancos also includes Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk, who Sheriff already have beaten.

“It was crazy, man,” Julien says from Tiraspol when I reach him by Zoom. “Going into the game I was really excited, but also nervous. I wasn’t in the starting lineup but was hoping to come on like I did. I came on and tried to contribute to the team.”

Julien also played his part in Sheriff’s domestic title run last season and also was a key contributor in push to get into the UCL group stage but currently is locked in a battle for playing time with Brazilian left back Cristiano.

The Concacaf player says the two have a good relationship, with Cristiano regularly motivating him in training, and feels it won’t be long until one or both of them move on to a higher level.

That bond between the Trinidadian and the Brazilian is somewhat commonplace on a Sheriff side that features players from more than a dozen countries living in a place where Julien said there are few actvities to enjoy other than going out for a bite to eat.

Even that is becoming more complicated, with Julien and his teammates standing out in the crowd of the Russian-speaking city with a population around 134,000.

“When they see a Black guy like me, they know I’m a footballer from Sheriff, because there are not many people like me here,” he said. “That’s why I stay in plenty because when you go out, you’re like a superstar. Everyone wants a photo, wants to take pictures. It’s a small town, but everyone knows you. You feel like you’re a big player.”

Julien is starting to live up to the big-player billing, and he hopes his Champions League cameos will bloom into more minutes or even starts.

Spotted by a Dutch agent at the Concacaf U-17 Championships in Honduras in 2015, Julien had trials in the Netherlands and Belgium before settling in Slovakia, where he signed with Trenčín.

The adaptation from Caribbean to Europe, where he had to adjust both athletically and culturally, was tough but eventually he had a sucessful run in Slovakia. In addition to league matches, he played eight Europa League contests, his first continential action since a 2015 Concacaf Champions League cameo as a teenager with W Connection.

“We have a lot of good players but not a lot of facilities. We have good coaches but not top, top coaches,” Julien said of soccer in Trinidad. “To come from there, I struggled at the start in Slovakia, but after six or seven months started to pick it up.”

Julien, who plays as a left winger in addition to his primary role at left back, suffered an injury in 2020 that was set to keep him out for a long period of time but said he was ‘saved’ by the league shutting down because of the coronavirus pandemic. That allowed him to get fit and contribute to the final 10 matches of the Trenčín season and earn a move to Sheriff.

Unlike other Concacaf players in the UEFA Champions League group stage, Julien isn’t yet fully consolidated with his national team. He has a cap in just one official match with Trinidad and Tobago, playing in the scoreless World Cup qualification draw with the Bahamas that condemned the Soca Warriors to first-round elimination.

Yet, Julien is convinced that not only is the team on the right path with new manager Angus Eve, whose teams Julien remembers always getting the best of his in Trinidad and Tobago, but also feels he has a big part to play going forward.

Trinidad and Tobago currently has few Europe-based players upon which it can call, with Julien, AEK Athens standout Levi Garcia (plus brother Judah, currently with AEK’s B team) and Mechelen center back Sheldon Bateau forming the core of Europe-based players Eve surely will rely on when the Nations League resumes.

‘This was a sad moment for us not not not winning this game (against the Bahamas), but I think going forward with the national team, once we stay on the right path we can do good. We have a good group of players who can do well, and I think going forward we will do well.”

For his personal goals, Julien wants to play as many minutes as possible with Sheriff, make a Champions League start and push on to a bigger league in addition to getting more international opportunities.

It’s already been a good beginning to the 2021-22 campaign, though. How often do you end September making a dream come true?