Sheriff becomes 1st Moldovan club to reach Champions League

National Sports

GENEVA (AP)There will be a new Sheriff in the Champions League draw on Thursday, giving Moldova its first entry in the group stage alongside rebel clubs who tried to launch their own elite breakaway.

Sheriff advanced easily with a 0-0 draw at Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday after winning 3-0 in the home leg of their playoff last week.

The low-ranked club from Tiraspol in the breakaway region of Transnistria had to get through all four qualifying rounds to reach the groups.

Sheriff has won the Moldovan title in 19 of the past 21 seasons and will finally take its place alongside Europe’s most storied teams. The draw Thursday includes 10 of the 12 clubs whose owners tried to wreck the Champions League by launching their own European Super League in April.

Moldova is typically described as the poorest country in Europe and Sheriff will now earn about 16 million euros ($18.84 million) in guaranteed prize money from UEFA.

Wealthy Salzburg returned to the group stage with a 4-2 aggregate score against Brondby, adding a 2-1 win in Denmark to victory by the same score in Austria last week.

United States midfielder Brenden Aaronson’s 10th-minute goal for Salzburg on Wednesday followed his 90th-minute winner in the first leg.

Shakhtar Donetsk edged past Monaco 3-2 on aggregate in extra time thanks to a bizarre own goal in the 114th minute. The ball deflected off Monaco’s Ruben Aguilar and looped over the goalkeeper into the net to seal a 2-2 draw on the night in Ukraine after the French side led 2-0 in the first half.

UEFA has now abolished the away goals rule which would have taken Monaco through after 90 minutes.

Here’s a look at the group draw being held in Istanbul, Turkey, at 1600 GMT.

SUPER LEAGUE REBELS

Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus will play in this Champions League while still fighting tournament organizer UEFA in court for the right to organize a rival competition.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg is now considering the rebels’ case after they won a decision from a local judge in Madrid to stall UEFA from disciplining them.

Nine more clubs – including seven in Thursday’s draw – quickly renounced their Super League membership after agreeing to UEFA’s settlement terms, including paying fines and forfeiting some of next season’s prize money.

Still, the Super League clubs are good box office. They include eight former European champions owning a combined 41 titles.

Seven-time winner AC Milan will play its first Champions League game since March 2014 – a 4-1 loss to Atletico Madrid – when the groups start on Sept. 14-15.

NEW TOP-SEEDED TEAMS

There are some unusually low-ranked teams among the top-seeded clubs. Top status is given to the Champions League and Europa League title-holders plus winners of the six highest-ranked domestic leagues.

That means French champion Lille is among the top seeds despite being the lowest-ranked team of all 32 in the draw, just as it was two years ago when losing five of six games.

Europa League winner Villarreal and Portuguese champion Sporting also have relatively low rankings.

In contrast, the pot of second-seeded teams is loaded with serial winners of European trophies plus Paris Saint-Germain’s team of superstars, including Lionel Messi.

In Pot 2, the lowest-ranked team based on European results since 2016, Borussia Dortmund, is ranked higher by UEFA than half of the top seeds.

PRIZE MONEY

The Champions League’s prize money keeps going up despite the pandemic, which is good news for the many clubs whose finances have been hit hard over the last year.

The 32 clubs will share just over 2 billion euros ($2.35 billion) in prize money from UEFA, compared to 1.95 billion ($2.3 billion) last season.

Each will get a basic fee of 15.64 million euros ($18.4 million) plus 2.8 million euros ($3.3 million) per win in the group stage and 930,000 euros ($1.09 million) per draw.

They get more for advancing through each knockout round, a slice of broadcast rights and shares of a 600-million euro ($706 million) fund that rewards historical titles and success. The highest-earning club could get about 130 million euros ($153 million).

Small deductions are taken from each club through 2024 to help refund UEFA’s commercial partners for 531 million euros ($625 million) lost to disruption during the pandemic-delayed 2019-20 season.

SEEDING POTS

Pot 1: Chelsea (England), Villarreal (Spain), Atletico Madrid (Spain), Bayern Munich (Germany), Manchester City (England), Inter Milan (Italy), Lille (France), Sporting (Portugal).

Pot 2: Real Madrid (Spain), Barcelona (Spain), Juventus (Italy), Manchester United (England), Paris Saint-Germain (France), Liverpool (England), Sevilla (Spain), Borussia Dortmund (Germany).

Pot 3: Porto (Portugal), Ajax (Netherlands), Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine), Leipzig (Germany), Salzburg (Austria), Benfica (Portugal), Atalanta (Italy), Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia).

Pot 4: Besiktas (Turkey), Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine), Brugge (Belgium), Young Boys (Switzerland), AC Milan (Italy), Malmo (Sweden), Wolfsburg (Germany), Sheriff (Moldova).

((asterisk)) Zenit cannot be drawn with Dynamo because of a UEFA rule since 2014 keeping Russian and Ukrainian teams apart.

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