Throwback Thursday: Roma’s Worst Nightmare at Old Trafford

There was much excitement in Rome those days. In the Spring of 2007, the yellow-and-red side of the Italian capital was breathing a refreshing Champions League air as Roma prepared to face Manchester United at Old Trafford in the second leg of a UCL Quarter Final. The Giallorossi had beat the Red Devils 2-1 at the Stadio Olimpico in the first leg and were glowing in confidence.

But things did not quite go as planned for Roma, whose trip to Manchester ended up in a humiliating, shocking 1-7 hammering powered by Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and co.

Roma melted like snow in the sun as the home side took a lightning-fast triple lead in the space of 19 minutes and mercilessly continued to deliver one blow after another in the night that perhaps truly set the beginning of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Champions League career.

It was an absolute slaughter that still haunts the worst Roma nightmares nowadays. The pain was made more excruciating by the hype and overexcitement grown in Rome as the day of the game approached. One that may sound unjustified in retrospect, but that was so thick it could almost be touched back then.

Under coach Luciano Spalletti’s guidance, Roma had just regained access to the elite circle of the Champions League participants after a couple of lackluster seasons.

They were hungry for European fame. Their top memories outside of Italy dated back to 1984, back when the top competition in the Old Continent was still called European Cup and featured only one club per country. It was a painful memory as the Giallorossi had lost the Final on penalties to Liverpool despite playing at home.

Roma’s dreams had crashed against Zimbabwean goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar and his clownesque moves that distracted and irritated the opposition penalty takers. Since then, the Roman Wolves had only collected a UEFA Cup Final which they lost to fellow countrymen Inter.

Before the Old Trafford rout, Roma’s worst European nightmare had the name of Bruce Grobbelaar and his “wobbly knees” that were enough to distract the Giallorossi penalty takers during the 1984 European Cup Final…

But that was all in the past now. In April 2007, enthusiasm was growing among coach Luciano Spalletti’s lines as well as among the Giallorossi demanding supporters. In the Champions League Round of 16, the Giallorossi had gotten rid of Lyon – one of the most fearsome side in Europe back in the days – catching a sensational 0-2 win at Gerland.

The first leg of the Quarter Finals had all but contributed to boost their confidence as Manchester United were tamed by 2-1. Roma had taken advantage of Paul Scholes’ send off to find the back of the net with Rodrigo Taddei and Mirko Vucinic. Little did Wayne Rooney’s equalizer help the Red Devils who, all in all, could count themselves lucky to leave the Olimpico with a one-goal only deficit.

Plus, Manchester were expected to meet Roma at Old Trafford two weeks later with a pretty depleted squad. On top of Paul Scholes, some key players like Gary Neville, Louis Saha, Nemadja Vidic, and Park Ji-Sung were all unavailable. It was an once-in-a-lifetime chance for Francesco Totti and co.

But the dream ended soon.

Michael Carrick opened the scoring just 11 minutes into the second leg with a brilliant left-foot curler from outside of the box. That’s basically all that United needed to turn the qualification tides in their favor and perhaps many – including Roma’s overconfident supporters – had simply forgotten that. They needed just one goal.

So, when back-up striker Alan Smith doubled the scoring just five minutes later, putting the cherry on the top of a beautiful one-touch team effort, the impression was that Roma had already wasted all the good things done in the first leg. The spell was broken. They had lost their chance. And they would not find it back.

On 19 minutes, Wayne Rooney deflected a Ryan Giggs cross into the back of goalkeeper Doni’s net and it was game over. Or maybe not. Not for Manchester.

Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils were famous for tearing their opponents to pieces when they smelled blood, scoring one goal after another if the opposition proved vulnerable. And that was exactly how Roma were appearing. Before the break, Cristiano Ronaldo increased the home side tally to four with a sharp low range shot to Doni’s near post.

It may sound incredible to even write it, but that was the first goal scored by the then 22-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League main stage – excluding the Qualifiers.

Was that over? No way. CR7 seemed to start enjoying that goal scoring sensation he would get so used to in the future and bagged his brace just four minutes after the restart. Then, Michael Carrick conjured another screamer from outside of the box and made it 6-0 around the one-hour mark.

Years later, Ronaldo would go as far as to claim that, at that point, some Roma player begged him to stop dribbling. Be it true or not, one simple look at the Giallorossi players’ faces was enough to understand that they were just hoping for the game to end as soon as possible.

And still, even in the middle of such a bloodbath, Daniele De Rossi found the strength to come up with a magnificent volley as he whipped the ball past Edwin Van der Sar to score one for Roma’s honor. Ironically, that was likely the most beautiful goal seen on that night.

United were not done, however, and on 81 minutes Patrice Evra joined the goal fest with a slow conclusion that caught the dazed Roma goalkeeper once again unprepared. Curtains down.

Those were the days when you never wanted to show Manchester United that you were in difficulty. Ever. If you did it, you would pay the price – as Roma learned the hard way.

The symmetrical remarks delivered after the game by the two team icons, Alex Ferguson and Francesco Totti, perfectly summed up the Old Trafford slaughter. For the Red Devils coach, that was “in European terms, the best night I had here.” A gloomy version of Roma’s eternal Capitano, on the other hand, called it “the saddest night in my career.

Manchester United would meet their fate in the Semi Finals, losing to Milan at the end of another legendary double-legged match-up. But their triumph over Roma paved the way for their Champions League renaissance that would see them lift the trophy the following season.

For the Giallorossi, the rout at Old Trafford was even more painful than the seven goals may suggest. They had challenged the European football aristocracy and were brutally reminded that they were not ready to join the grand ball yet.



April 10, 2007 – Champions League 2006-2007 Quarter Finals
MANCHESTER UNITED-ROMA 7-1 (Manchester United advance 8-3 on aggregate)

SCORER: 11′ Carrick (M), 17′ Smith (M), 19′ Rooney (M), 44′ Cristiano Ronaldo (M); 48′ Cristiano Ronaldo (M), 60′ Carrick (M), 69′ De Rossi (R), 81′ Evra (M)

MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): Van der Sar; O’Shea (52’ Evra), Ferdinand, Brown, Heinze; Fletcher, Carrick (73’ Richardson); Cristiano Ronaldo, Giggs (61’ Solskjaer), Rooney; Smith (Kuszczak, Eagles, Cathcart, Dong) Coach: Ferguson
ROMA (4-2-3-1): Doni; Cassetti, Mexes, Chivu, Panucci; De Rossi (85’ Faty), Pizarro; Wilhelmsson (88’ Rosi), Vucinic, Mancini (90’ Okaka); Totti (Curci, Defendi, Ferrari)) Coach: Spalletti

REFEREE: Michel (Slovakia)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Smith, Ferdinand (M), Cassetti, Mexes (R); Extra Time: 1st Half 2′, 2nd Half 3′