Roma lined up a blockbuster Europa League semi-final clash with Manchester United on Thursday after holding Ajax to a 1-1 draw to go through to the last four 3-2 on aggregate.
Edin Dzeko’s strike 18 minutes from time ensured the draw and passage for Paulo Fonseca’s side, who were on the back foot for most of the match, and a showdown with United who strolled into the semis 4-0 after a 2-0 win over La Liga outfit Granada at Old Trafford.
The other semi-final will see Arsenal face Villarreal, coached by former Gunners boss Unai Emery.
Manchester United eased into the Europa League semi-finals on Thursday, staying on course for a potential all-English final with Arsenal after a 4-0 aggregate win against Granada.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men went into the second leg at an empty Old Trafford after a comfortable 2-0 win in Spain and knew that, barring a disaster, they were almost certain to progress.
An early Edinson Cavani goal, his first for the club in Europe, virtually sealed the tie and a late own goal added gloss to the scoreline for the home side. Granada had chances of their own in both halves but lacked a killer touch.
United, who won the competition when Jose Mourinho was at the helm in 2017, will be desperate to win their last-four clash against Roma after four semi-final defeats under Solskjaer.
“We are looking forward to it,” said the Norwegian. “We’re in the semis. It feels like a proper European tie because Roma is a club with lots of history. We’ve done well against Italian sides before.
“We’re going into it hoping to get to the final. If we can finish the season with a trophy that’d be great.”
The home side opened the scoring in the sixth minute when Paul Pogba flicked on an Alex Telles cross to Cavani, who steered a left-footed volley into the far corner. Yangel Herrera went close to an equaliser on the night, flashing two headers wide of David de Gea’s goal and Bruno Fernandes volleyed over at the other end.
Pogba was booked early in the game and committed another foul shortly afterwards but the referee decided that challenge did not warrant a second yellow. Solskjaer substituted the France international at half-time to avoid a red card, bringing on Donny van de Beek in midfield.
Granada’s Jorge Molina went close with a header shortly after the restart and United also had chances to pull further ahead through Mason Greenwood and Cavani.
German Sanchez had another opportunity to make life uncomfortable for United following a set-piece but could not keep his left-footed shot on target.
The game became increasingly open in the final minutes. De Gea made a fine save before an own goal from Jesus Vallejo sealed a 2-0 second-leg victory for United.
United, on course to finish second in the Premier League, are looking to win their first silverware since their triumph in the Europa League four years ago. Last year they lost in the semi-finals to Sevilla.
Roma hold Ajax
Italy’s only remaining representative in Europe came into the clash at the Stadio Olimpico with a slender lead but two away goals from last week’s first leg in Amsterdam.
“I’ve never got to a semi-final before, so I’m very proud, especially as we are representing Italy right now,” said Fonseca, who has been under pressure following a disappointing Serie A campaign.
“It’s a source of pride for Roma and we are all very happy.”
Their European campaign looked in danger when Ajax teen Brian Brobbey was introduced for Antony at the break and the striker made an instant impact, racing onto Perr Schuurs pass three minutes after the restart and nipped the ball past an onrushing Pau Lopez.
However after Dusan Tadic’s strike for the away side six minutes later was ruled out for a foul on Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the build up, Dzeko tipped the tie in Roma’s favour.
The Bosnian was on hand to tap home the leveller which put Roma a goal ahead on aggregate after Riccardo Calafiori’s low cross was deflected into his path.
With Ajax needing to score again to take the tie into extra-time the hosts were galvanised and managed to fend off Erik ten Hag’s outfit, who will have to wait until next season for a shot at European glory.
“If you look at the overall tie we were the better side, but that doesn’t mean anything,” Ajax’s Davy Klaasen told Dutch broadcaster RTL7.
“We knew they would be happy to defend their 2-1 lead.”
Roma will be hoping to gain revenge on United for the 7-1 hammering they suffered at Old Trafford at the quarter-final stage of the Champions League in 2007.
With AFP Inputs