Keston Julien

BIG TIMES:  Keston Julien, the Trinidad and Tobago national team left-back, proudly walks into Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium on Tuesday for a Champions League group match for his side, FC Sheriff Tiraspol.

Even in Covid-19 times, Keston Julien still has not washed the shirt given to him by Real Madrid’s David Alaba, a defender who has played for Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.

Trinidadian left-back Julien swapped shirts with the Austrian defender after coming on as a second half FC Sheriff Tiraspol substitute, as his unfashionable Moldovan team won 2-1 over Spanish giants Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday, September 28, a now historic date for the Soca Warrior.

One of the biggest upsets in the history of the European Champions League, the Moldovan champions were expected to be the whipping boys at their first time ever qualifying for the Champions League. But they now lead Group D with six points, after also upsetting Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 in their opener. Real Madrid (three points), Inter Milan (one) and Shakhtar Donetsk (one) fill the other places in the group.

At just 22 years old, Julien would only have daydreamed about playing against Real Madrid when he left local club W Connection four years ago to play football in countries most Trinidadians hardly know off-hand. He landed in Slovakia where he played for three seasons with AS Trencin, before moving to Moldova, a former Soviet republic with little football tradition, to play for FC Sheriff Tiraspol, a relatively new club, with no European pedigree.

Julien had only returned to action in two previous domestic matches after picking up an injury. He was the starting left-back all through the Champions League qualifying matches when his club played unbeaten, until the preliminary qualifier where he went off with a hamstring injury and subsequently lost the starting slot to a Brazilian team-mate. When the attacking defender was called to make his Champions League debut, it was further up field at left-wing, Julien coming on in the 78th minute with the team level at 1-1.

“It was an exciting moment for me,” he recalled. “I am a Real Madrid supporter and to make my debut against them, it felt like a dream come through.”

Speaking to Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) media, Julien described the crescendo of emotion he felt when his previously unknown team beat Real Madrid’s multi-million-dollar team.

‘It was like a dream’

“I was expecting to make my debut, but not against this team (Real Madrid),” Julien explained. “When coach call me to get warm and come on the pitch it was like a dream.”

He continued:”To be on the same pitch with players like (Karim) Benzema, (Luka) Modric, Vinicius, it was a crazy feeling for me.”

Sheriff would have been thrilled with a draw, then came the shot which stunned Real Madrid’s Bernabéu Stadium.

The ball was played to Sheriff’s most technical player, Luxembourg international midfielder Sebastien Thill, who won the match with a 90th minute wonder goal, his rocket flying to the top far corner, giving Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois no chance of stopping it.

“I was shocked myself,” Julien said of Thill’s stunning winning goal. “It was a pores-raising raising feeling to win the match at that point in the game. It was surreal.”

From being an overweight youth and a “Savonetta Boy”, in his old age Julien can boast of being on the pitch when beating a Real Madrid team, something which accomplished former players Stern John, Russell Latapy and David Nakhid cannot.

From dreaming of playing against great players when on FIFA and PlayStation games, Julien lived his dream and urged other youngsters not to abandon theirs, even when things don’t look good.

“Never give up. With football your live could change in one year, six months,” he said, “I could have given up so many times.”

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