AS EXCLUSIVE | REAL MADRID-SHERIFF

Real Madrid dream realised for Sheriff captain Castañeda

The striker, captain and star of Sheriff Tiraspol spoke with AS hours before fulfilling his dream of playing at the Santiago Bernabéu. "I'm a Real Madrid fan."

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Real Madrid dream realised for Sheriff captain Castañeda

Frank Miguel Castañeda Pérez, born 17 July 1994 in Cali, Colombia, is the star player and captain of the relatively unknown Moldovan side Sheriff Tiraspol. He and his teammates visit the Santiago Bernabéu on Wednesday to play the second group game in the Champions League. Last season he scored 33 goals and provided a record 16 assists.

He left his country of birth with the idea of playing in the most important competitions in the world, and now he is doing just that. It is a dream for him, a self-professed fan of Real Madrid, to play in this particular stadium, however, he is not just coming for the occasion. He believes that his side will get chances to score and take at least a point from their trip.

Ahead of the big match, Castañeda sat down with AS to discuss how we got to this point.

Sheriff captain assesses UCL Real Madrid dream clash

How does a Colombian player end up playing for a team in Moldova?

I was in Slovakia, playing for Senica. My contract with them ran out, and so with my agent [Maurizio Preziosi] we began to look at options, which is when Sheriff came up. At that moment it seems like an interesting choice because it would give me the chance to play in tournaments like the Champions League or the Europa League. It was always a dream for me to play in these competitions, and so that is why I chose to come here.

Describe the moment when you decided to come to Europe from Colombia? Was it a difficult decision?

At that time I was clear that I wanted to come to Europe because I wasn't getting a game for my team [Orsomarso SC] and when I was they weren't playing me in my best position. My agent told me that I was losing out because I wasn't playing in the position that suited me best. That's why I didn't think twice when he told me there was a chance to move.

What is it like to live in a relatively unknown city like Tiraspol, and what is it like to be part of a team made up of players for more than a dozen countries?

It is a small city, but it has everything a professional player needs. It's a very nice place to live and they welcomed me with open arms. And in the team, there are smaller groups: the South Americans, the Africans, the Moldovans... but then on the pitch we understand each other very well. That's why things are going well for us. On the pitch we all fight as one.

You had to get through four preliminary rounds to reach the group stage of this Champions League. Were you confident you could do it from the start or did you think it was an impossible task?

At the beginning we looked at it as an impossible dream, but we all worked very hard to make it come true, especially in the last two rounds. All four round were difficult, but in the third against Red Star and the last one against Dinamo Zagreb the higher level was noticeable but we were able to show that we were capable of reaching the group stage. Obviously, once we did achieve it, there was a sense of disbelief. You get excited. But then you realise that you are actually going to play in the Champions League, and now we are looking to show that we can take our opportunity.

And the icing on the cake awaits: playing against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu. Did you ever imagine something like this happening?

I had dreamed about it because I'm a Madrid fan when it comes to Spanish teams. I dreamed of being in that stadium. Obviously you imagine yourself with the Madrid shirt on, but I think the plans for me have been different [laughs]. Now I am with Sheriff where I am very happy and where we have been lucky to qualify. Now we can fulfil the dream of playing in that great stadium, the Bernabéu.

What comes to your mind when you think about playing at the Bernabéu?

A lot of things come to mind. You remember when you played football as a kid and you imagined you were at the Bernabéu, but in reality you were on a pitch in your neighbourhood… but now you're not, now you're actually playing there. A lot of childhood memories come to mind and everything you had to go through to be able to get there and to be able to appreciate these things. It will be a great experience.

On paper, Sheriff are the weakest opponents in the group, but you showed against Shakhtar [2-0 win] that you are not here just to enjoy the experience…

Everybody says that, but I think the perception has changed since we beat Shakhtar. I think the other teams now see us as a tough opponent and that at any moment we can strike. We have earned that respect and with the same respect we are going to face each of our opponents in this Champions League.

What are the strengths of this Sheriff side and how can you surprise Madrid?

We are strongest on the counter-attack. We have very fast players up front and we are very intelligent when attacking. We are a team that defends very well and at any moment we can hit. When people least expect it, we score. It's tough to score against us because we close down very well at the back and we're decisive in the last quarter of the pitch, so I think we'll have chances to score at the Bernabéu.

What would be a good result for you?

A draw would be great for us. We can't ignore who Real Madrid are and what they represent in the Champions League. But the main thing is that we go there to win and if we don’t a draw would be really good.

Benzema... y nada más!

Is there a Madrid player you are particularly looking forward to playing against?

I've been following Benzema for a long time. I watch his movement because he's a great striker. I think he's a great reference point for Madrid.

Will you ask him for his shirt after the game?

When the time comes, if I get the chance, yes, I will ask him if we can swap shirts. But always with a great deal of respect. Let's see what happens in the match. Sometimes you say things, but when you're actually in the moment you can forget, so we'll see how it goes.

Do you follow Spanish football?

Sure, it's a great league. I'd like to go and play there. In the last summer transfer window I had an offer from a second division team, but now I think I'm ready to play in the first division. I have to keep showing the quality I have and of course I would like to play there.