Miracle of Roma not built in a day

Roma captain Daniele de Rossi (front) and team-mate Alessandro Florenzi celebrating after stunning Barcelona 3-0 in the Champions League quarter-final second leg to advance 4-4 on the away-goal rule.
Roma captain Daniele de Rossi (front) and team-mate Alessandro Florenzi celebrating after stunning Barcelona 3-0 in the Champions League quarter-final second leg to advance 4-4 on the away-goal rule.PHOTO: REUTERS

Italian papers, players hail coach di Francesco for tactical genius in shock second-leg win over Barca

ROME • Not even in a moment of shared exhilaration could Italy's football writers find consensus.

"Miracles, in football, do exist," ran the opening line of La Repubblica's match report.

Corriere della Sera had a different take, saying: "This isn't a miracle. It's something bigger than that."

The front pages were, however, universal in their praise for Roma coach Eusebio di Francesco after he masterminded an incredible 3-0 Champions League quarter-final, return-leg win over Barcelona on Tuesday.

Italian di Francesco, 48, has the uncanny ability to tweak formations for different opponents and he abandoned the 4-5-1 shape he used in the 4-1 first-leg defeat, instead engineering a 3-5-2 formation which saw Roma overwhelm the LaLiga leaders with relentless high pressing and long balls behind the defence.

"We had a long way to go after the first leg, but all credit to the coach because he invented this formation two days ago, he drilled it into our heads and it worked wonders," captain Daniele de Rossi told reporters after Roma went through 4-4 on the away-goal rule.

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    Barcelona became the first team in Champions League history to overturn a four-goal first-leg deficit when they stunned Paris Saint-Germain 6-1 in the return leg. With 88 minutes on the clock, PSG still held a 5-3 lead on aggregate but a free kick and a penalty from Neymar, followed by Sergi Roberto's last-gasp settler, completed a heist for the ages.

De Rossi hammered in the second goal of the night from the penalty spot after Edin Dzeko opened the scoring after six minutes at an electric Olympic Stadium, where Roma have won every Champions League game this season without conceding a goal.

Greek defender Kostas Manolas headed home the crucial third goal from a corner with eight minutes remaining, joining de Rossi in atoning for own goals in the first leg.

Dzeko also waxed lyrical about his side's tactics and said he played with more freedom alongside Czech forward Patrik Schick, while the return of Belgian hardman Radja Nainggolan - who missed the Nou Camp defeat with injury - gave the Italians a solid platform to mount wave after wave of attacks on Marc-Andre ter Stegen's goal.

Ernesto Valverde's Barca had conceded only three goals in the competition before this match, fewer than any side, but Roma left Lionel Messi and Co chasing shadows, exemplified by Dzeko aggressively leading from the front.

"I have never seen Barcelona struggle so much, we pressed them throughout the game from the first minute," Dzeko said.

"It was easier for me to play when Schick and Radja were closer to me, it created more space and stretched their defence."

As well as scoring the opener - his sixth in the Champions League this term - Dzeko won the penalty which de Rossi converted, having been hauled down in the box by Gerard Pique, and it was also the Bosnian striker who had struck Roma's crucial away goal.

"We all believed, even if everyone else gave us a five per cent chance," he added. "Tonight, we proved we can play against anyone, as Barcelona are such a strong side. We put three goals past them and we could have scored more."

Di Francesco revealed his switch to a back three was meant to make his side more dangerous down the flanks.

"I made this choice to give us more width, allow us to have more counter-attacks and bring us more pace, but what really changed was the philosophy of the side," he said.

"I take the blame for defeats and some ungrateful words on social media, so I may as well take the credit for a win."

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2018, with the headline 'Miracle of Roma not built in a day'. Print Edition | Subscribe