‘Failure’ was the buzz word in Spain after Roma’s incredible comeback against Barcelona on Tuesday night.
Barcelona-based daily Sport had a frontpage which read ‘Failure, without excuses’ while MARCA went with ‘Total failure in Europe’.
And while they are right, Barcelona did fail. They failed to close out a tie in which they were 4-1 up, they did fail in every facet on the pitch against Roma, and, most importantly, their coach Ernesto Valverde failed, or a least was forced into failure by his opposite number.
As news filtered through that Roma boss Eusebio Di Francesco was going to all out, all or nothing, for the win, two schools of thought formed. One being that it would be a tactical masterstroke and Roma will complete the comeback, and the other, and more prevalent, acknowledging it could be a unreconcilable disaster with Roma well and truly thumped.
Di Francesco even had the same thoughts which he shared post match: “I was a little crazy to try this, as there was the risk that it didn’t work and we would concede, but we managed it.”
The best part is, they never looked like conceding at all over the entire 94 minutes played. A high pressing game, straight out of master Zdenek Zeman’s book – of whom Di Francesco is a devoted disciple – nullified the Barcelona attack. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez might as well have stayed in Catalonia, such was their involvement.
Edin Dzeko bullied and harassed Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti, on the road to the best performance he has managed in a Giallorossi shirt. Helped by the ever eager Radja Nainggolan and surprise starter Patrick Schick, the Roma trio forced goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegan into lumping the ball upfield, time and time again.
Those high aerial balls in the direction of Federico Fazio, Kostas Manolas and Juan Jesus were gobbled up. Messi, Suarez or Andres Iniesta never stood a chance. The Roma defence took the game to their opponents, moving forward towards the ball, rather than sitting back and waiting for Messi and co. to attack.
Barcelona didn’t know what had hit them. Whether it was a tree trunk Argentine, a Greek god, or Brazilian bulldozer. They were never given an inch, nor a second to settle on the ball.
Alessandra Kolarov and Alessandro Florenzi made €35 million man, Nelson Semedo, and one of football’s foremost left-backs in Jordi Alba, look amateur. Florenzi in particular believed, and threw everything he had at his opponents, winning balls he had no business in winning and complimenting that with composure to float in dangerous crosses. Alba and Semedo rarely, if at all, crossed the halfway line.
Kolarov’s importance cannot be understated either as the Serbian’s wicked left foot struck fear into the Barcelona defence each time he whipped the ball into the penalty area.
No player epitomised the night more than Daniele De Rossi. A Roma native like Florenzi, and the man who followed Francesco Totti as club captain. He had the match of his life, becoming the first player since April 2013 to bag a goal and assist against the might Barcelona in the Champions League.
Often games such as this, De Rossi has been unable to exert his authority, and prise out the reams of quality he has. Tuesday night ended that. Marshalling his midfield partners, driving the Giallorossi forward, while adding that touch of class in the final third. A true Roman centurion.
Those individual components combined wonderfully, brought together by the sometimes enigmatic Di Francesco. He said he was up all night thinking of ways to stop this Barcelona and give his side a platform from which they could built a victory on, and he did it.
When he walked into this post match press conference, journalists from Spain, Italy and abroad – including this one – applauded, such was the magnitude of the achievement he had just accomplished. Only twice in Champions League history had a team overcame a three goal first leg deficit.
What’s more, and what Di Francesco should really be commended for, is having the guts, the balls, to do what he did. To risk all or nothing in search of glory. Not many coaches in modern football go out from the first minute of a match and do what he did. And even less make it stick.
Basking in glory from all corners, he is not content with just a quarter final win, Di Francesco wants the final in Kiev, stating Roma ‘deserve’ to be there given their exploits on the continent this season, and who could argue.
Drawn into a group with Atletico Madrid and Chelsea, no one gave Roma a chance of qualifying. They topped the group.
A tricky tie against Shakhtar Donetsk came next, and despite a wobble, Roma dispatched the Ukrainians. Then came the Camp Nou. An easy draw for Barcelona they said in Spain. and 4-1 in the first leg vindicated that.
However, imperial at the Stadio Olimpcio, Roma have yet to concede in front of the Roman Champions League hoards, and implemented the perfect plan to keep the dream alive.
Bet against them at your peril, for now, they have a legion of Roman warriors and a Roman general willing to put everything on the line in search of victory.