Football

Roma hail ‘inventive’ coach for shock win

Players, sporting director also credit di Francesco for creating fear factor

AS Roma captain Daniele de Rossi heaped praise on coach Eusebio di Francesco for masterminding an incredible 3-0 win over Barcelona yesterday morning (Singapore time) which took the Italian side into the European Cup semi-finals for the first time in 34 years.

Di Francesco abandoned the 4-5-1 shape he used in the 4-1 first-leg defeat by Barca at the Nou Camp, instead engineering a 3-5-2 formation which saw his side overwhelm La Liga leaders with relentless high pressing and long balls behind the defence, reported Reuters.

"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," midfielder de Rossi said after Roma went through on away goals.

De Rossi hammered in the second goal of the night from the penalty spot after Edin Dzeko had got the hosts off to the perfect start by opening the scoring after six minutes at an electric Olympic Stadium.

Greece defender Kostas Manolas headed home the crucial third goal from a corner with eight minutes remaining, joining de Rossi in making up for scoring in his own net in the first leg.

Dzeko also waxed lyrical about his side's tactics and said he played with more freedom alongside Patrik Schick in attack, with Radja Nainggolan, who missed the first leg with injury, behind them.

"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. It was (also) the first time we played with three at the back and we did great."

As well as scoring the first goal, Dzeko won a penalty when he was hauled to the floor by Gerard Pique and it was also the Bosnian who had struck Roma's crucial away goal at the Nou Camp.

"We all believed, even if everyone else gave us a five per cent chance," Dzeko said.

"Tonight we proved we can play against anyone, as Barca are such a strong side. We put three goals past them and we could have scored more."

Belgium midfielder Nainggolan added that Roma fully deserved to eliminate Barca as they simply "wanted it more".

FIRED UP

"The 3-0 was incredible, but if you watch the two legs, we wanted it more and really deserved to go through," he told Roma TV.

"We scored three goals against a side who have won so much in recent years. Tonight, everything was fantastic - from the stadium to the atmosphere around us. We believed.

"Few gave us a chance of going through the moment the draw was made but, seeing the unfair result of the first leg, we had to believe because we had nothing to lose.

"We got the 1-0 early, then more chances and our confidence grew. I am happy for the squad, because people called us losers, so this just fires us up.

Nainggolan also credited di Francesco, while claiming that the other three semi-finalists in the Champions League will now "fear" the Serie A side - a warning also echoed by Roma's sporting director Monchi.

"The coach wanted to change some things to ensure Barca couldn't play their way out of defence. It was the perfect game and we took many of our chances too," the midfielder said.

"We've got to continue the work we're doing and it doesn't hurt to dream. Every game is difficult, but now that we've eliminated Barcelona, the other sides will start to fear us too."

Monchi added on Roma TV: "We'll see how the draw goes. It's difficult to say which rivals would be better. Two steps to Kiev? Maybe. Four teams can dream and Roma are one of them. Perhaps the others will be afraid of Roma now."

Di Francesco said the aim of the change in formation was to make his side more dangerous down the flanks and also praised his players for their near-perfect display.

"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."

He also insisted that his team should now be targeting the Champions League final after eliminating Barcelona.

"Of course, we should believe in the final. We came this far and nobody expected us to do it so, of course, we should push on and aim for something more, raise the bar every time.

"I don't want a side who rest on their laurels. I'll not stand for that. We have to target more and realise we can always do better."

Football