To hope to reach the quarter-finals of the Europa League Conference, Nice traveled nearly 1,800 km to face Thursday (6:45 p.m.) in the first leg of Sheriff Tiraspol in a particular context with the war in Ukraine in the background.
Sheriff Tiraspol, with his 19 league titles since 2001, is unrivaled in Moldova. The club which played in the Champions League last season is also a symbol, that of Transdniestria, an eastern, pro-Russian strip of land, which seceded from Moldova in the early 1990s.
Located on the Ukrainian border, this region has been the subject of tensions since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, tensions which have recently increased.
On February 24, the Russian Foreign Ministry even announced that Russia would “retaliate” to any Ukrainian military “provocation” in the Transdniestrian region, where Moscow has a military contingent.
It is in this heavy context that OGC Nice landed, Wednesday in the middle of the day, in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova where the meeting will take place, since UEFA no longer allows the Sheriff to play his matches in competitions Europeans in Tiraspol.
The OGC may have advised against the trip to Moldova to its supporters, they will be at least 70 in the stands.
– “Find the solution quickly” –
On site since Monday, the club’s security department has sought to anticipate the slightest problem, in collaboration with the various French representations in the region but also the local police. Because, unlike their trip to Belgrade to face Partizan (1-1) during the group stage, the Nice supporters did not all take the same plane this time.
Partizan Belgrade is also the last opponent to appear on the lawn of Chisinau, in the first leg of C4, on February 16. Despite the defeat during this meeting played behind closed doors (1-0) due to the current insecurity, the Sheriff recovered his handicap in Belgrade (3-1).
Didier Digard and his players know that the opponent, transferred from the Europa League as 3rd in his pool behind the English from Manchester United and the Spaniards from Real Sociedad, will be tough.
“It’s a very important challenge for the club and even for France”, specified, Wednesday in conference, the Nice coach for whom Tiraspol has “a lot of offensive talent”. “It’s a team that goes fast, quite powerful, strong in duels and efficient, even outside, he analyzed. The double confrontation will be very competitive.”
The Sheriff has a strong African contingent, including the Ivorian right-back, Armel Zohouri, 21, who passed through … Nice and loaned to Lausanne last season.
Without some of his injured major players (Ramsey, Diop, Pépé and Mendy) or unqualified (Barkley), Digard apprehends the meeting differently than an L1 match, where he is undefeated since taking office (six wins and three draws ).
“It is necessarily prepared differently, because it is knockout, he says. We do not have twelve days, then, to find the solution. There, you have to find it very quickly and be very reactive.
After the draw at home against Auxerre (1-1) on Friday, he had to “wash heads” to keep the current momentum, but also to involve the workforce so as not to fail during the second trip of the week, to Nantes , Sunday.
“We will have to be very attentive,” notes Digard, who intends to continue his European career without giving up all hope in the championship (7th).