Zaniolo fires Roma to first Europa Conference League title

Published May 27, 2022
TIRANA: AS Roma’s Lorenzo Pellegrini kisses the trophy as his team-mates celebrate after winning the Europa Conference League final against Feyenoord at the Arena Kombetare.—AFP
TIRANA: AS Roma’s Lorenzo Pellegrini kisses the trophy as his team-mates celebrate after winning the Europa Conference League final against Feyenoord at the Arena Kombetare.—AFP

TIRANA: Nicolo Zaniolo’s goal earned AS Roma a first major European title in more than 60 years after a 1-0 win over Feyenoord in the inaugural Europa Conference League final in Albania on Wednesday, completing a unique European trophy haul for Jose Mourinho.

Roma coach Mourinho, who had previously won the Champions League, Europa League and the UEFA Cup with other clubs, can now add the third-tier European title — the Italian side’s first trophy in 14 years — to his medal tally.

The 22-year-old Zaniolo earned Roma victory with an expertly-taken finish in the 32nd minute, as he became the first Italian to score in a European final since Filippo Inzaghi against Liverpool in the 2007 Champions League.

Roma, whose only previous continental title was the old Fairs Cup in 1961, held off a spirited comeback from their Dutch opponents, who were twice denied by the woodwork in the second half.

But they remained solid in the face of Dutch dominance and brought joy to one of Europe’s most passionate and success-starved fan bases.

Over 50,000 fans packed the Stadio Olimpico in the Italian capital to watch their team make a little piece of history in Albania and poured onto the pitch once the trophy was secured.

Meanwhile the small corner of supporters allowed into Tirana’s National Stadium roared with delight once referee Istvan Kovacs blew his whistle to end their team’s trophy drought.

That ensured that Mourinho became the first manager to win a European trophy with four different clubs, after previous successes at Porto, Inter Milan and Manchester United.

“We are a real team, we proved that. Now we have to celebrate and then start again, which is always difficult after a great victory, but a real team wins, celebrates and starts again,” Roma captain Lorenzo Pellegrini told Sky Sport Italia. “I said yesterday that I never would’ve imagined at the age of 25 to achieve this with the Roma jersey and the captains armband. It is a wonderful moment.”

Mourinho was moved to tears by his fifth continental cup as a coach, the first for an Italian team since he led Inter to the Champions League 12 years ago.

“It was a real struggle but I’m really happy,” Zaniolo said to Sky. “It was my dream and now I’ve done it.”

Given both Roma and Feyenoord came into the contest having already secured Europa League football for next season through their domestic league position, it was all about the glory in Tirana.

Early on it looked like there was only going to be one winner, as Roma dominated the opening exchanges, without troubling Feyenoord goalkeeper Justin Bijlow, playing his first match since March 10.

One chance was all they needed to hold the lead at the interval, with Zaniolo brilliantly bringing down Gianluca Mancini’s ball over the top on his chest before flicking a finish past the onrushing Bijlow for his first goal in all competitions since a hat-trick in the quarter finals against Bodo/Glimt.

Zaniolo also became the youngest Italian to score in a major European final since Alessandro Del Piero against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League in May 1997.

Feyenoord, looking to be the first Dutch club to win a European competition in 20 years, since their 2002 UEFA Cup triumph, failed to really test Rui Patricio in the Roma goal in the opening period.

Yet they started the second half brightly, with Roma’s Gianluca Mancini diverting an early Feyenoord corner onto his own post.

The Dutch side kept coming and hit the woodwork again as Tyrell Malacias superb strike from 25 metres was tipped onto the post by Patricio.

Further chances came and went, but some last-ditch blocks and wasteful finishing ensured Roma’s long wait for a European trophy would end in Mourinho’s first season in the Italian capital.

For 1970 European champions Feyenoord it was their first ever defeat in a European final as well as being the first loss in the competition for Arne Slot’s team.

“We really wanted to take that cup with us, to thank the supporters and to put Feyenoord back on the map, unfortunately it didn’t work out like that,” Bijlow said.

“We put the pressure on them and then you saw they had trouble dealing with us. But unfortunately it wasn’t good enough. It’s especially terrible that we can’t take the cup to Rotterdam.”

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2022

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