Thill helping the Red Lions find their roar

  • Sebastien Thill scored the winner for Sheriff Tiraspol against Real Madrid in the Champions League

  • The Luxembourger only turned pro a year ago

  • Can he carry this form over into qualifying for Qatar 2022?

Sebastien Thill’s name featured in plenty of sports headlines last week after he rifled home a now legendary volley from the edge of the box in the 89th minute of the UEFA Champions League match between Real Madrid and Sheriff Tiraspol to hand the Moldovan club a shock 2-1 win at the Santiago Bernabeu.

It also meant that Thill became the first ever player from Luxembourg to score in this competition. “It’s something that no one will ever be able to take away from me! I’m obviously incredibly proud to have written my own little paragraph in Luxembourg footballing history,” the man of the hour tells FIFA.com. “It’s all the more exciting to do it like that – scoring like I did and at the Bernabeu. But it’s already past history for me. I was on Cloud 9 for two days but now I’m not thinking about it anymore. Now I’m with my national team and we have other things in our sights!”

Late but rapid progress

The 27-year-old midfielder has no time to lose. 14 months ago, he was still in the amateur ranks at Progres Niederkorn in Luxembourg, training at night on the pitch that he had mown during the day as a municipal gardener. “I’m aware of how far I’ve come in such a short space of time,” Thill says. “It’s incredible! I think that I’m living proof that you can do anything if you work hard and make sacrifices.” His credo serves him well when he swaps club for country. The Grand Duchy were ranked 130th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking five years ago but since then, they have not been out of the top 100. And despite the fact that they have never qualified for a major tournament, they are currently battling it out with Portugal and Serbia in Group A of European qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, with matches against both of those big guns coming up in the next few days.

“You approach any football match with the intention of winning it. Playing for a draw doesn’t exist, and that’s our mindset as we come up against these two teams. The first time we faced them in the group, we had a good first half against Portugal and a good second half against Serbia, but we ended up losing both matches. If we can manage to put two good halves together this time around, that would be pretty good!” says Thill, who has two goals in 15 appearances for his country.

IMAGO / AFLOSPORT

Sebastien Thill (Sheriff), SEPTEMBER 28, 2020 - Football / Soccer : Thill celebrate after his goal during UEFA Champions League Group stage Group D match between Real Madrid CF 1-2 FC Sheriff Tiraspol at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, Spain. Noxthirdxpartyxsales PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxJPN (0136483607st)

The gap separating Luxembourg from the biggest teams in Europe is not as wide as it once was. And while they may have gone down 3-1 and 4-1 to Portugal and Serbia respectively, wins over the Republic of Ireland (1-0) and Azerbaijan (2-1) have seen the Red Lions keep pace in the hunt for a qualifying spot. “It goes without saying that I still believe that we can qualify!” insists Thill, despite the fact that they are five points adrift of Serbia in the group standings.

“As long as it’s mathematically possible, I’ll never stop believing. Beyond that, I’m convinced that Luxembourg are ready to achieve great things. We’ve got the players to do just that. More and more of us are playing for clubs abroad and the national team is benefiting from that. We’re capable now of getting some big results!

Running in the family

Serbia, who are Luxembourg’s next opponents on 9 October, have been warned. And who knows, maybe Thill will be the hero of the hour once again and steal a march on Aleksandar Mitrovic, current leading scorer in European qualifying with seven goals? “You can’t expect me to score in every match, you know!” he grins. “I’m worried that people will look at me differently now after that goal and that they’ll expect more from me. But I’m not putting myself under any pressure!” And rightly so, as Thill has already achieved a great deal for his country. The same goes for his brother Vincent (35 caps, three goals) who is the youngest player ever to score for Luxembourg (at 16 years, one month and 21 days). Then there is his other brother Olivier (24 caps, two goals) and even their parents, Serge and Nathalie, who are former internationals themselves. “It’s in the genes,” says Thill. “I have a young nephew who’ll you’ll never see without a football!” It seems the name Thill may be in plenty more headlines in the years and decades to come!