The Roma Road to Tirana and the Conference League Final

Nine months and 14 games on, Jose Mourinho’s Roma are on the cusp of becoming the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League champions. One more challenge awaits the Giallorossi in the form of former European Cup winners Feyenoord. They will convene in Tirana for a place in the history books as first ever winners of this new tournament.

We will take a look back at Roma’s road to the final. It was far from straightforward for Mourinho’s side, and they will most certainly have to bring their A game on Wednesday if they are to end their 14-year wait for another trophy.

Playoff Round and Group Stage

Roma’s European season kicked off the earliest of the Italian teams in Europe as there are no automatic places in the Conference League group stage. Instead, they had a two-game playoff to successfully negotiate in order to assure themselves continental football in the fall.

The first obstacle came in the form of Turkish side Trabzonspor. Having pulled off an upset in the previous round over Molde, this was not as straightforward as one may think. Several former Serie A players were in the team at the time.

Nevertheless, Roma managed to progress courtesy of goals from Lorenzo Pellegrini and Eldor Shomurodov in the first leg and Bryan Cristante, Nicolò Zaniolo and Stephan El Shaarawy in the return leg. The group stage proved to be more difficult than on paper for the capital club. Pitted against CSKA-Sofia of Bulgaria, Ukraine’s Zorya Luhansk and Norwegian champions Bodø/Glimt, things did not end up going as smoothly as hoped.

A routine 5-1 success at home to CSKA-Sofia and a 3-0 victory in Ukraine had Roma well on their way to move on as expected. However, things went haywire in Norway to say the least. An unthinkable 6-1 thumping to Bodø saw Mourinho experience his heaviest ever defeat as a manager. The return match only saw Roma take a point, as the Norwegian side continued to be a headache for the Giallorossi. An easy 4-0 win at home to Zorya plus a victory in Sofia managed to be enough to take top spot in the group despite the loss of points.

Knockout Round

Winning the group proved to be quite helpful for Roma as they avoided the knockout round playoffs, a round added which pitted the Conference League runner ups against the teams that finished third in the Europa League group stage.

The Round of 16 saw Mourinho’s side face giant killers Vitesse. Another tough challenge awaited Roma as Vitesse had already eliminated some European regulars in the previous rounds. The Dutch side proved their worth in the first leg, as they proved to be quite the trouble to break down. Going into the second leg 1-0 down, a Maximillian Wittek goal with half an hour to go in the second leg made things difficult. It was not enough, however, as Tammy Abraham found the net in stoppage time to send Roma through.

The quarterfinal draw threw a familiar foe. Once again, it was Bodø/Glimt who was the opposition, and once again Roma struggled. Having just started their domestic season ahead of the first leg, Bodø looked to continue where they left off. They did exactly that in the first leg, with a 90th minute winner from Hugo Vetlesen. That was the furthest the Norwegians got this time, as Roma ran rampant in the return leg. It was three first half goals that ended for Bodø as Roma cruised to 4-0 success this time around.

In the Semi Finals, Leicester were the opponents. Once again playing the away leg first, Pellegrini put the Giallorossi in front inside 15 minutes. Their advantage was cancelled out with a quarter of the game to go courtesy of a Gianluca Mancini own goal. It was another early goal at the Olimpico a week later that proved to make all the difference. Abraham was the perpetrator, and this time there was no response from the Foxes. Holding on for the win, Mourinho was left in tears as a result of his side’s progression to the Final.

Having already won the Champions League, Europa League, UEFA Cup and Cup Winners Cup as coach (the latter as assistant coach), Mourinho is looking to become the first coach to have won every major UEFA club competition. Having assured themselves Europa League football for next season on Friday, that is one less pressure on the squad.

This being Roma’s third UEFA club competition final, they are looking for their maiden European trophy. This is their chance finally lift silverware, a chance they can seldom afford to pass up. It is not every day a chance like this one presents itself.