Europa Conference League

Europa Conference League (25)

Chris Smalling and Tammy Abraham both revelled in Roma's Europa Conference League triumph after defeating Feyenoord 1-0 in Wednesday's final in Tirana.

Nicolo Zaniolo's lone goal proved the difference for the Giallorossi, chesting Gianluca Mancini's pass over the top of the defence to poke the ball home past Justin Bijlow in the 32nd minute.

While Abraham top-scored for the team over the tournament with nine goals, Smalling turned in a man-of-the-match performance at centre-back to help secure Roma's maiden European trophy.

One of the first in a modern wave of Englishmen playing abroad in Europe's top five leagues, Smalling was well aware of Roma's continental drought, insisting it motivated the team.

"We knew how much it was going to mean to everybody in Rome, and you can see how together we are, everybody fought until the end," Smalling told BT Sport.

"We had to do that on a few occasions this year, we dropped a bit deeper than we maybe wanted to but we knew we had to do everything. You could see, strikers running back, everybody defending and we knew we had to win.

"Even when I first came to the club it had been a long time since they won a trophy, you can hear the fans. We knew how much it was going to mean, you can see we've got some of the best fans."

Abraham had previously stated he was reticent to play in the Serie A, believing it would take him out of the frame for England selection.

With 27 goals in 52 games in all competitions this season, Abraham is part of Gareth Southgate's squad for the June international window along with Fikayo Tomori, who this weekend wrapped up the Serie A title with Milan.

The 24-year-old Abraham believes Roma deserved their victory on the night, while his reception in Italy has inspired him.

"One thing I said when I came here was I was going to help the team get to the final and one day I want to win a trophy," Abraham also told BT Sport. "In my first season I have achieved that.

"Credit to my team-mates, excellent performances. We deserve it. We have worked hard all year.

"I love them (the fans). From day one I came here it has been the best. We are champions, I am happy to be a part of the team, now it is time to celebrate and enjoy."

Nicolo Zaniolo is hoping to savour a childhood dream after his goal secured Roma the Europa Conference League title on Wednesday, defeating Feyenoord 1-0.

Zaniolo's goal proved the difference in a tightly-contested final in Tirana, chesting down Gianluca Manini's pass over the Feyenoord defence to poke the ball home past Justin Bijlow in the 32nd minute.

The 22-year-old scored the hat-trick to ignite the Giallorossi's comeback against Bodo/Glimt in the quarter-final second leg, making his winner in Tirana that much more fitting.

Post-match, he was adamant Roma can build something lasting upon this maiden European triumph, after losses in the 1984 European Cup and 1991 UEFA Cup finals.

"It's all wonderful, we want to enjoy this moment," Zaniolo told Sky Sports Italia. "I made my dream as a child come true, winning a European competition.

"There are no words, the fans are fantastic, and the victory is all for them. After this victory something important is being born. We are strong and we have not yet understood how much.

"I dedicate the goal and the victory to my whole family – my father, my mother, my grandmother, everyone. They have always been close to me."

The Giallorossi absorbed and defended for the majority of the match after Zaniolo's goal but more than the nature of the performance, the victory has an added dimension for captain Lorenzo Pellegrini.

Before two seasons with Sassuolo, the 25-year-old progressed through Roma's academy, grew up supporting the club and eventually returned.

Pellegrini admitted it was hard to process the achievement with that in mind, but wanted to taste more success with the club.

"We are a real team, we proved that," Pellegrini told Sky Sport Italia. "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.

"I said yesterday that I never would’ve imagined at the age of 25 to achieve this with the Roma jersey and the captain’s armband. It is a wonderful moment.

"Now we must celebrate, fix this moment in our minds and make it happen again in future."

Nicolo Zaniolo led Roma to their first major continental title with a 1-0 victory over Feyenoord in the Europa Conference League final in Tirana on Wednesday. After suffering a defeat…
Jose Mourinho has said Wednesday's inaugural Europa Conference League final will be about "finishing a journey" as his Roma side prepare to take on Feyenoord. The Giallorossi beat Leicester City…

You would have been forgiven for thinking the days of Jose Mourinho leading teams to European finals were over.

From 2002 to 2010, Mourinho-coached sides appeared in two Champions League finals and one UEFA Cup showdown. On each occasion, 'The Special One' triumphed.

He had to wait seven years for his next appearance in a continental showpiece, but he kept up his 100 per cent record – Manchester United beating Ajax to lift the 2016-17 Europa League trophy.

But that was an early peak in Mourinho's United tenure. His stock has since fallen. He was sacked in 2018 and then lasted just 18 months at Tottenham, the only club he has managed so far where he has not won a trophy.

He might have had the opportunity to win the EFL Cup with Spurs, though he was sacked before that rescheduled match could take place. Hard lines.

It was hard not to feel Mourinho's race had been run. He can no longer be considered among the truly elite managers, and that was reflected as he rocked up at Roma.

Not that Roma, three-time champions of Italy, are by any means a small club. They were in the Champions League semi-finals as recently as 2018.

Yet, their last title came in 2001 and their last trophy of any description came in 2008 when they won the Coppa Italia for the ninth time. Ironically, Mourinho's Inter then beat Roma in the Supercoppa Italiana at the start of the following season, the last time the Giallorossi had a chance to win a piece of silverware.

But Mourinho is a winner, and now he has the chance to remind everyone of that. He is back in a European final as Roma get the opportunity to win their first major European trophy. No other coach has reached the final of a major European competition with four different clubs.

"I am a coach with a certain history and Roma are a big club," he told UEFA's Italian website. "I did feel a little bit of responsibility to make this a big competition.

"The Conference League is our Champions League. This is the level we are at, the competition we are playing for. The club has not reached a game like this for a very long time."

The Europa Conference League may have been scoffed at when it was introduced but for fans of Roma, and their opponents Feyenoord, continental glory that would otherwise have evaded them is now within their grasp.

With a record-breaking striker leading the line in the form of Tammy Abraham, Mourinho might just have a fifth European title under his belt.

Life in the old dog?

Mourinho has overseen 54 games so far at Roma, triumphing in 28 of them to give him a win percentage of 52.

That is a slight dip from the 55 per cent in 2020-21, though that was over three fewer matches, but an improvement on the 46 per cent (from 35 games) and 42 per cent (from 24 fixtures) in 2019-20 and 2018-19 respectively.

 

Roma won 18 Serie A games this season, ensuring a place in the Europa League through a sixth-placed finish.

His 47 per cent win ratio in the league ranks him 10th out of Roma coaches to have overseen at least 10 games, while his 52 per cent in all competitions puts him joint-sixth, alongside predecessor Paulo Fonseca, of those bosses to have taken charge of at least 20 matches.

Perhaps Mourinho's decline is highlighted by the fact he is placing so much emphasis on winning UEFA's third-tier club tournament, but from Roma's perspective, that desire will surely be welcome.

Abraham the key?

Having been deemed surplus to requirements at Chelsea, Abraham has become something of a cult figure at Roma.

Abraham called Mourinho "the best manager in the world" in an interview with talkSPORT in April, and he has certainly thrived under the Portuguese's guidance.

 

He has scored 27 goals across all competitions this season, one better than the previous best tally he had managed, which was 26 goals for both Bristol City (in 2016-17) and Aston Villa (2018-19), albeit both of those campaigns were in the Championship.

It has been a record-breaking season for Abraham. A first-half double against Torino on Friday saw the 24-year-old become the highest-scoring English player in a single season in the Italian top flight, surpassing the previous mark of 16 set by Gerald Hitchens at Inter in 1961-62. 

The only Roma player to score more than the England international's haul of 17 in a debut Serie A season with the club was Rodolfo Volk, who registered 21 in the 1929-30 campaign. 

He has featured in all but one of Roma's league games, starting 36 times and averaging a goal every 182 minutes, converting 17.8 per cent of his 95 shots, which ranks better than two of his seasons in the Premier League (13.33 per cent in 2017-18 and 16.22 in 2019-20).

Abraham has scored nine times from 13 Conference League appearances and he has proved many doubters wrong this season.

With a place in Gareth Southgate's World Cup squad later this year potentially up for grabs, playing a pivotal role in Roma's maiden European success would be some way to cap a fine campaign and seal his name in Giallorossi folklore.

An emotional Jose Mourinho spoke of his burning desire to bring silverware to Roma after reaching the Europa Conference League final, declaring: "This is our Champions League."

The Italians will contest the competition's first ever final later this month after beating Leicester City 1-0 at the Stadio Olimpico to secure a 2-1 aggregate success in the semis.

Afterwards, the manager reflected on the importance of a victory that sets up Roma to win a first European title since lifting the 1961 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.

And he insisted that winning the Europa Conference League would feel just as significant as claiming one of European football's more glamorous prizes.

He told BT Sport: "When you work in Rome, you live in Rome, you breathe Rome and you breathe this club because this club is the real club of the city. 

"I felt from day one that it's a huge club, as you could see, but no victories and not many finals. The history is not related with the social dimension of the club.

"We managed to build an okay team that grew up step by step and we could beat a Premier League team that comes from a different dimension.

"So I'm very, very emotional. Of course I had bigger moments than this but I'm not feeling for myself, I'm feeling for the people and my players.

"This for us is our Champions League."

Meanwhile, Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers was left to lament the defensive fragility his side showed around the corner that led to Tammy Abraham's 11th-minute winner.

He said: "The corner, it's been our Achilles' heel all season. We've tried every structure in the box to defend, man-marking, zonal. 

"Clearly, we lack physicality in the team to deal with certain situations consistently and it's obviously cost us tonight."

And the former Liverpool boss hinted that changes could be afoot as the Foxes look to bounce back next term.

He added: "We have to finish the season strongly now and look to progress in the summer to challenge again next season."

Feyenoord clung on to a first-leg Europa Conference League semi-final lead to progress to the final after holding Marseille to a 0-0 draw at Stade Velodrome for a 3-2 aggregate victory.

The Eredivisie outfit weathered an everything-but-the-kitchen sink performance in attack from their hosts amid a frequently raucous atmosphere in Provence to make history.

It takes the Dutch side to a first major European final appearance since 2002, when they defeated Borussia Dortmund to claim what was then the UEFA Cup.

But for Jorge Sampaoli, it will be a draw that tastes like defeat as Les Olympiens missed the chance for a shot at their first bit of continental silverware since the 2005 Intertoto Cup.

With Marseille coming into the match needing a victory to at the very least enforce a run into extra time and penalties, it was a lively opening half and hour from the hosts.

Backed by an army of flare-wielding fans – to the point that visibility was seriously reduced by smoke over the first quarter-hour – they pressed hard for an early advantage.

Yet Arne Slot's charges held firm, and the Ligue 1 side were handed a hefty creative blow when Dmitri Payet was forced off with an innocuous issue in the 33rd minute.

Luis Sinisterra subsequently missed a chance to craft a two-goal aggregate cushion for Feyenoord straight after the break when he pushed his header into Steve Mandanda's gloves.

With time running out to find an answer, tempers began to flare across the final quarter too, with Gerson and Lutsharel Geertruida physically squaring off at one point.

Another fracas between both sets of players set the tone for a tempestuous final few minutes – but with Marseille unable to ultimately crack the Dutch defence, it was their visitors who held on to set up a trip to Tirana, where they will face Roma.

Roma booked their place in the first Europa Conference League final as they beat Leicester City 1-0 in a hard-fought semi-final second leg.

Tammy Abraham's 11th-minute header proved the difference between the sides, who had drawn 1-1 in their first meeting in England last week.

Thursday's result secured Roma their first European final appearance since the 1990-91 UEFA Cup, and ensured Brendan Rodgers' men failed to reach their maiden showpiece fixture in continental competition.

Jose Mourinho's side will take on Feyenoord for the trophy in Tirana, Albania on May 25.

The Foxes made a bright start and saw a credible penalty claim waved away after Chris Smalling appeared to grapple with Wesley Fofana in the box.

But the tide soon turned in Roma's favour, allowing Lorenzo Pellegrini to test Kasper Schmeichel with a low curler from a free-kick on the edge of the box.

The Italian's delivery was key to the hosts taking the lead, Abraham powerfully heading home a delicious outswinger of a corner.

However, a Pellegrini shot that called Schmeichel into action in the immediate aftermath served as a prompt for Leicester to start asking questions of their own. 

Unfortunately for the visitors, they struggled to turn long spells of possession into real chances, ensuring the score remained at 1-0 at the break.

Rodgers consequently moved to mix things up at half-time, Daniel Amartey and Kelechi Iheanacho replacing Harvey Barnes and Ademola Lookman as part of a switch to a 3-5-2 formation.

And, while that change enhanced Leicester's domination of the ball, much like in the first half, turning that into opportunities proved problematic.

In fact, their first shot on target did not come until the 79th minute, a weak James Maddison effort failing to truly test Rui Patricio.

And so the Foxes could have few complaints when the full-time whistle confirmed the end of a memorable European journey.

Roma booked their place in the first Europa Conference League final as they beat Leicester City 1-0 in a hard-fought semi-final second leg.

Tammy Abraham's 11th-minute header proved the difference between the sides, who had drawn 1-1 in their first meeting in England last week.

Thursday's result secured Roma their first European final appearance since the 1990-91 UEFA Cup, and ensured Brendan Rodgers' men failed to reach their maiden showpiece fixture in continental competition.

Jose Mourinho's side will take on Feyenoord for the trophy in Tirana, Albania on May 25.

The Foxes made a bright start and saw a credible penalty claim waved away after Chris Smalling appeared to grapple with Wesley Fofana in the box.

But the tide soon turned in Roma's favour, allowing Lorenzo Pellegrini to test Kasper Schmeichel with a low curler from a free-kick on the edge of the box.

The Italian's delivery was key to the hosts taking the lead, Abraham powerfully heading home a delicious outswinger of a corner.

However, a Pellegrini shot that called Schmeichel into action in the immediate aftermath served as a prompt for Leicester to start asking questions of their own. 

Unfortunately for the visitors, they struggled to turn long spells of possession into real chances, ensuring the score remained at 1-0 at the break.

Rodgers consequently moved to mix things up at half-time, Daniel Amartey and Kelechi Iheanacho replacing Harvey Barnes and Ademola Lookman as part of a switch to a 3-5-2 formation.

And, while that change enhanced Leicester's domination of the ball, much like in the first half, turning that into opportunities proved problematic.

In fact, their first shot on target did not come until the 79th minute, a weak James Maddison effort failing to truly test Rui Patricio.

And so the Foxes could have few complaints when the full-time whistle confirmed the end of a memorable European journey.

What does it mean?

Mourinho now has the chance to win his first trophy since the 2017 Europa League while ending Roma's 14-year wait for silverware up against Feyenoord in the final.

As for Leicester, they have little more to aim for than a top-half Premier League finish across the remainder of this season.

Pellegrini drags Roma through

One goal may have done the job for Roma, but that was not for a want of trying from the impressive Pellegrini.

As well as teeing up Abraham's winner, the midfielder created four chances while posting a passing accuracy of 83 per cent.

Isolated Vardy tells a tale

Dominant in possession for so much of the game in the Italian capital, it was a lack of cutting edge that let Leicester down in the end.

That is perhaps best evidenced by the fact that Jamie Vardy managed just 21 touches across the 90 minutes, and a paltry xG of 0.05.

What's next?

Leicester return to Premier League action on Sunday when they host struggling Everton. Roma, meanwhile, travel to face Fiorentina in Serie A next Monday.

Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel is targeting winning more trophies with the Foxes ahead of the Europa Conference League semi-final second leg against Roma.

Jose Mourinho's Giallorossi earned a 1-1 draw at the King Power Stadium last week, and are the favourites to advance when they get the Foxes back to the Stadio Olimpico.

However, Schmeichel – the son of former Manchester United stopper Peter Schmeichel – says he and his team-mates are going to Rome "to win". 

Speaking at a media conference ahead of the game in Italy, the Dane told reporters: "When you're in a competition your sole focus is on that competition, which is what is happening now.

"We go to win whatever we're involved in and this is no different. It's a European trophy, every trophy is important, every competition you can win is important.

"I don't play football to finish fourth or fifth or sixth, it's about winning trophies. These are those moments fans and players will look back on when your career is over."

Schmeichel was a part of the Leicester team that sensationally won the Premier League title in the 2015-2016 campaign, before raising the FA Cup last term after beating Chelsea in the final, and the 35-year-old believes those experiences, coupled with this season's journey to the final four in the inaugural Conference League, will bode well for the team.

"I don't know how you get better quickly. I don't know if that's possible," he said. "I think it gets stored in the bank of experience.

"This is a great experience for so many players and these are the type of moments that you can look back on one day and draw back on when you need them.

"It all contributes to the mentality you build, and it's a winning mentality we want to build. Being in these situations and getting to finals where everything is on the line. When you've been there before, you can draw on those experiences."

 

A Lorenzo Pellegrini goal at the King Power Stadium gave Roma the lead in the first leg, before a Gianluca Mancini own goal levelled things up, and Schmeichel complimented the Serie A side's organisation.

"They're very well organised and very well drilled, I would expect nothing less from a Jose Mourinho team," he added. "They are a dangerous side, they showed they can be clinical. They played the game how they wanted to play it.

"They were probably happy to get away with the draw so they could decide it at their stadium. They're a very organised team, one that will be dangerous. To be honest our focus is more on us than the opposition."

Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers also spoke to the media on Wednesday, labelling the game in the Italian capital as a "great challenge".

"You have to go and enjoy it," he said of the task ahead. "This is a great challenge for us, the challenges we've had going to PSV, going to Rennes [in previous rounds], we knew we were going to tough environments to go and play with the crowds and against good teams.

"This is another step forward for us mentally in the maturation of the team, it's a very young team playing at this level and we will gain from experiences of course, but we've shown that we can also complete the task.

"You have to embrace that."

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