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, Trinidad and Tobago 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 TT have been sending him encouraging and congratulatory messages, for which he is thankful.
“I’m just trying to keep TT 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 TT squad for the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup qualifiers earlier this year.
He is the first TT player to play in the UCL since the 2011/2012 season following 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.