Roma are your inaugural Europa Conference League champions! After a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Dutch side Feyenoord, the Giallorossi finally get their hands on a European trophy and put an emphatic stamp on Jose Mourinho’s first season at the club.
As you would expect in the opening stages of the final of any inaugural European competition, the opening phase of the match was marked by both teams playing it safe — with Roma staying compact and looking to hit on the counter, and Feyenoord looking to draw the Giallorossi out of their shell. Surprisingly, Mourinho opted to play Henrikh Mkhitaryan, perhaps hoping that the Armenian would last through to the latter stages of the match. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be, as Mkhitaryan went down at the 17th minute unable to continue, and was subsequently replaced by Sergio Oliveira.
The stalemate continued for the opening half-hour of the match — neither side was willing to risk getting caught out. It was clear that one aspect of Mourinho’s game plan on the night was for the center-backs to play long balls over the top to Tammy Abraham and Nicolo Zaniolo, hoping to take advantage of their pace. And sure enough, that tactic bore fruit and resulted in Roma scoring the lone goal of the match in the 32nd minute – Mancini sending in a beautiful ball into Zaniolo, who chested the ball down and was able to get just enough on the ball to get the ball in the back of the net and give Roma the lead on the night. The match began to get chippy for the rest of the half, setting the stage for a dramatic conclusion.
If you’ve followed this club for any amount of time — any at all — you knew that the second half would be anything but straightforward. And sure enough, the drama and intrigue started right from the off, with Feyenoord flipping the switch after a relatively tame first half-performance, turning up the pressure and looking agonizingly close to securing an equalizer. And they very well would’ve been it not for the heroics of Rui Patricio, making vital save after vital save, one in particular where Rui palmed the ball onto the post and out of bounds for a corner, Roma’s old foe finally coming to its aid.
Eventually, Roma weathered the storm and began to come into their own, again looking to break on the counter and extend their slim advantage. With just under half an hour left to play, Mourinho turned to his bench, bringing on Leonardo Spinazzola and Jordan Veretout in place of Nicola Zalewski and Zaniolo, respectively. While many a Romanista might’ve hoped to see Spinazzola from the start, it was no doubt a wonderful moment to see him on this stage again after a devastating conclusion to his Euros.
As the game drew to its conclusion the pace of the game slowed considerably, whether that be from tired Feyenoord legs or Roma dipping into the ‘ol bag of tricks to slow the game down – either way, at this point in the match with a trophy on the line, you take it. Although the chances were few and far between at this point, Roma certainly had the best of them – with a pinpoint Veretout through-ball finding Pellegrini with a good chunk of space inside the box – the angle just too tight for the captain to fire it home and kill the game off.
Surprisingly, five minutes of extra-time were relatively straightforward, the Giallorossi easily seeing out the game and even nearly scoring a second after the Feyenoord keeper was caught out of his net on a Feyenoord corner attempt. Soon enough, the final whistle blew and this Roma can now call themselves European champions! I’m sure I speak for everyone here and say that boy, I can get used to seeing Roma engrave their names on a trophy.
In case you missed any of the action, enjoy the highlights below.