Football

Di Francesco: Nobody believed in Roma

Eusebio di Francesco hailed his Roma side for proving the doubters wrong after the Serie A runners-up qualified for the Champions League last 16 top of their group ahead of Chelsea yesterday morning (Singapore time).

There were double celebrations for di Francesco's side on the night after it was announced just before kick-off that the construction of their new stadium had been given the green light.

"It's satisfying because nobody believed we could qualify at all. They assumed we'd be eliminated, but we worked hard, proved ourselves and won the group," said di Francesco, who took over this season.

Roma edged out Qarabag of Azerbaijan 1-0 to top Group C with Diego Perotti's second-half header ensuring they finished ahead of Chelsea, who were held 1-1 by Atletico Madrid in London. The Spanish outfit - finalists in 2014 and 2016 - were eliminated.

Roma's path to top spot followed a solid campaign which included maximum points against Qarabag, beating Chelsea 3-0 in Rome, and coming away with a 3-3 draw from London, with their only loss a 2-0 defeat by Atletico in Spain.

Midfielder Radja Nainggolan believes they have proven themselves to be a top side during the group stage.

He said: "Our qualification is deserved. We had trouble in some games, but nobody thought we'd get through, let alone as top of the group, so it's really satisfying.

Goalscorer Perotti told Mediaset Premium: "It's a wonderful moment for us.

"When the draw was made, nobody believed in us, but we worked hard and I think we deserved this first place."

Di Francesco's side will now be seeded for next Monday's draw, where they could face teams including Real Madrid and Bayern Munich as they bid for a first quarter-final appearance in 10 years.

He feels Serie A teams need to change their mentality to make an impact in the knockout stages, although he is not worrying over who their next opponents may be.

He added: "It was a great victory, a difficult one, especially as I have no Champions League experience.

"We're through and it's with a great sense of pride. But in Italy, we have the tendency to sit back. We have to change that mentality and not to be satisfied with what we have.

"We're first ahead of Chelsea and Atletico. We won by suffering, it's a sign of great mental strength.

"We are among the best 16 teams in Europe and we have to think like a big team, that means not being afraid of anyone. Of course, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, that could be a little more difficult than other rivals." - WIRE SERVICES

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