Italy has spent five months grieving over the failure of the national team to take their customary place at the World Cup, but Roma have restored some pride with a heroic victory over Barcelona in the Champions League.
The Azzurri, four-time world champions, are not going to Russia, but after Roma won 3-0, to over-turn a 4-1 quarter-final deficit and eliminate mighty Barca on Tuesday night on away goals, the club from the Eternal City can dream of going to a final in Ukraine.
“We must aim for Kiev,” Eusebio di Francesco, the Roma coach said after the match. “Why not believe in something even greater after such a match?”
Unless Italian league leaders Juventus can perform an even more unlikely exploit, and overcome their three-goal deficit away to Real Madrid on Wednesday night, Roma, a distant fourth in Serie A, will be the sole Italian representative in the last four of Europe’s most prestigious club competition.
On a heady night at the Stadio Olimpico, Edin Dzeko set the ball rolling in the sixth minute, and after Daniele De Rossi converted a penalty 13 minutes into the second half to get the home fans believing, Kostas Manolas glanced home a brilliant header with eight minutes left to send the Roma supporters into raptures and leave Barca wondering what had hit them.
The joyous celebration continued long after the final whistle and spread out of the stadium and across the Italian capital. Car horns blaring, flags waving, fans singing in the streets and wild cheers pouring from every household, the Italian capital came alive.
The feelgood factor was picked up on Wednesday by a jubilant Italian press. The specialist sports newspapers played on the city’s past. Rome-based Corriere dello Sport used the headline “Mythic Rome” while Milan’s Gazzetta dello Sport went with “Imperial”.
Several newspapers picked up the pun “Romantada,” a play on the “remontada”, as Barcelona’s comeback from a four-goal first-leg deficit against Paris Sain-Germain last year is known in Spain.
“A crazy Olimpico” was the Corriere dello Sport’s headline on its main story, which offered a host of reasons why it was a privilege to be at the stadium on Tuesday night, called the players “extraterrestrials” and awarded them all marks of 10 out of 10.
By the second paragraph, the paper was complaining about the referee.
It said French official Clement Turpin had “tried to block the road with countless contrary decisions” adding that he should have sent off Barcelona’s Gerard Pique and ignoring the official’s decision not to show match-winner Manolas a second yellow card.
Gazzetta dello Sport hailed a “night of dreams,” called Roma’s performance “titanic,” praised the team’s “aggressiveness” and Di Francesco’s tactics and pointed out that Roma could now be considered one of “the top four in Europe”.
La Repubblica, a Rome daily, talked of “nights on which the impossible takes shape”.
Another Rome paper, Il Messaggero, ran stories on the “joy of fans” and estimated the semi-final place was worth more than €10 million to Roma.
A big thing
Roma’s victory was not the only upset of the round, but it surprised the man behind the other, Liverpool’s 5-1 elimination of Manchester City after a 2-1 second leg victory at the Etihad Stadium. “I came up the stairs and someone told me,” Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp said.
“I really thought it was a joke. Not that I don’t respect Roma absolutely the opposite, they are a fantastic football team. They lost Mo Salah and they are in the semi-finals. That is quite a big thing. I didn’t expect it but I know it was possible. I think a normal final could be City-Barcelona and now they are both out. But there will be two other really strong teams in plus us and Roma.”