It was a crazy feeling
From watching their favorite football club’s games on TV to playing against – and defeating – them at home in a UEFA Champions League (UCL) group stage match, TT defender Keston Julien said it was “a dream come true”.
The 22-year-old Gasparillo native made his UCL debut on Tuesday with Moldovan side Sheriff Tiraspol, toppling Real Madrid 2-1 in their Group D match at the Bernabeu stadium, Madrid, Spain.
It was also his club’s debut at UCL and they are the only Moldovan club to qualify for the league so far.
On August 25, Sheriff drew 0-0 in the second leg of the qualifying play-offs against Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb after winning 3-0 in the first leg.
Alongside the Sheriff and Real Madrid, in UCL Group D are Ukrainian Shakthar Donetsk and Italian club Inter Milan.
Sheriff now leads 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 put his side ahead, but Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema equalized in the 65th minute from the penalty spot.
It was a bittersweet moment for Sheriff in the 72nd minute as they thought they would regain the lead, but Bruno’s goal was ruled out as offside.
As both teams continued to push to score the game-winning goal, Julien replaced midfielder Frank Castaneda in the 78th minute.
It wasn’t until 12 minutes later that the Sheriff would get redemption as Sebastien Thill scored a screamer in the 90th minute to bring the score to 2-1, which they held onto for the six minutes of added time.
Speaking to Newsday on Thursday, he said that although he was nervous he did his best to stay focused.
“It was just a crazy, different feeling. I could never have imagined it, but that’s life – things happen.
“I was nervous and I think any player would be nervous in this situation, but I just kept my cool.”
When asked if he expected to be substituted he replied “not really” but: “I had three good games before this game so I think the coach saw that I was playing well. so he gave me my chance to make my debut against Real Madrid.
“Everyone was happy for each other, my teammates congratulated me on my debut … Real Madrid are my favorite club so it was a dream come true.”
He even greeted and swapped shirts with Real Madrid number four David Alaba after the game.
“Yeah, it seems a little crazy that I was on a team that beat my favorite team,” Julien said with a laugh. “When we scored (the winner) I couldn’t believe it. I had to stop for a while, then it sank and I went to party.
One of his soccer idols, although he hasn’t played, is Real Madrid’s Marcelo, who also plays left-back.
He said his family, friends and even strangers from TT sent him messages of encouragement and congratulations, for which he was grateful.
“I’m just trying to keep the TT flag high,” he said.
His side will face Inter Milan on October 19, which he says will be a tough game, but he said the team are working very hard.
“Tuesday was ancient history but we are trying to do better and move forward as players and as a club. We don’t stop there. We are trying to move up. We are going to give our all.
“Before the tournament started I think maybe everyone counted us up and said we got the three points easily (easy to beat) but things have changed and we are leading (in the group) and I think that more teams will start to respect us now.
“So yeah, it’s really crazy, I’m excited and 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 Slovakian club AS Trencin and was part of the TT squad for the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup qualifiers earlier this year.
He is the first TT player to play in UCL since the 2011/2012 season after midfielder Khaleem Hyland who played for Belgian club KRC Genk.
Other TT 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. .