Coach tells Zaniolo to stay focused despite brace

ROME • Roma teenager Nicolo Zaniolo has been told not to get ahead of himself after he became the youngest Italian to score twice in a Champions League match as they beat visiting Porto 2-1 in their last-16, first-leg clash on Tuesday.

Roma coach Eusebio di Francesco sent out the warning after the 19-year-old scored his brace for the Italian Serie A side in six second-half minutes at the Stadio Olimpico.

The midfielder gave Roma a comfortable advantage before Porto substitute Adrian Lopez responded with an away goal.

"It's right for him to be lauded, he has done well," di Francesco said in a post-match news conference.

"The praises are right, but without excess and with caution. I told him to remain focused and to always play with his head.

"He is on a path of development that is beyond expectations; the matches he doesn't play well in are also a motive for growth."

Di Francesco was pleased with his side's performance, particularly in the second half, despite them conceding what could be a crucial goal for Porto with 10 minutes left.

"We grew into the game and used the ball better, the central midfielders were better with the quality of their play," he added after Edin Dzeko struck the post in an uneventful first period.

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  • Before Nicolo Zaniolo's brace, the youngest to score two or more in the Champions League was Raul who, at 18, hit a hat-trick for Real Madrid against Ferencvarosi in 1995.

"The two teams were looking at and studying each other. We hit the post in the first half too, it was good. In the second half, we had more determination in the final third.

"It was one of our best performances from the perspective of feeling like a team."

Zaniolo, who has become a fan favourite since arriving from Inter Milan in exchange for Radja Nainggolan last summer, could not hide his delight after the match.

The youngster, who has five goals and two assists in 22 appearances in all competitions this season, was also given an ovation by an ecstatic home crowd who see him as the heir to club legend Francesco Totti.

"It's an incredible night, I'm speechless and never would have expected such a thing," Zaniolo told Sky Sport Italia.

"But we've got the second leg coming up, we shouldn't have conceded the goal."

Porto coach Sergio Conceicao believes the tie remains finely poised ahead of the return leg in Portugal on March 6.

"At the start, it was balanced, then when we tried to be more incisive, we conceded," he said.

"But we still have a 50-50 chance, just like before the game."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2019, with the headline 'Coach tells Zaniolo to stay focused despite brace'. Print Edition | Subscribe