AS Roma won their first major European title in more than 60 years as Nicolo Zaniolo’s first-half goal earned the Italians a 1-0 victory over Feyenoord Rotterdam in the Europa Conference League final in Albania on Wednesday.
The 22-year-old Zaniolo steered the ball home in the 32nd minute with a left-footed touch, after first taking it down off his chest, to make Roma inaugural winners of European football’s new third-tier club competition which was introduced this season .
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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, and ensured that Jose Mourinho became the first manager to win a European trophy with four different clubs.
Roma goalkeeper Rui Patricio made vital saves as Feyenoord took the game to the Italians, enjoying the lion’s share of possession, but always looked vulnerable on the counter-attack.
« Now we’ve got to celebrate — a lot, » said Roma captain Lorenzo Pellegrini. « But then we’ve got to keep going. A real team wins then comes back even stronger than before.
« 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. »
Besides the few thousand Roma spectators inside the small National Arena in Tirana, some 50,000 fans watched the game on giant screens at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. At the final whistle, the fans at the Olimpico celebrated on the pitch waving banners and chanting the team’s songs
There were violent clashes in Tirana between fans of both clubs ahead of the final, and dozens were deported back to Italy.
Two separate groups of Dutch and Italian fans clashed with police on Tuesday in the city, injuring 19 officers and five Albanian civilians. One police officer was injured from a knife attack, authorities said. Three Italian fans and two Dutch supporters were also injured.
Inside the stadium, flares were thrown onto the field and stewards removed a few fans before kickoff after an apparent fight on the side where Dutch fans were sitting.
The situation appeared to be under control after kickoff.
Zaniolo’s goal started with a ball over the top from center back Gianluca Mancini that Zaniolo controlled with his chest. Zaniolo then pushed the ball past onrushing goalkeeper Justin Bijlow with the tip of his boot.
« Stupendous. Let’s enjoy this moment, » Zaniolo said, before gesturing to the Roma fans. « There are no words to describe it. It’s all for them. »
Zaniolo has often been labeled as Italy’s most talented young player. But he’s been held back by two serious knee injuries, one of which kept him out for all of last season and prevented him from taking part in the Azzurri’s run to the European Championship title.
At 22 years and 327 days, Zaniolo became the youngest Italian player to score in a European final since Alessandro Del Piero’s goal at 22 years and 200 days for Juventus in a loss to Borussia Dortmund in the 1997 Champions League final.
An attacking midfielder, Zaniolo produced five goals and three assists in 10 Conference League games.
After Zaniolo’s goal, Mourinho — realizing how long there was to go — gestured for his excited bench players to sit and calm down.
Feyenoord came out energized after the break and quickly hit the post twice, first with a close-range effort from Gernot Trauner then with a long-range blast from Tyrell Malacia that Patricio palmed off the upright.
Mourinho extended his perfect record in European finals to five trophies in five matches, having also won the 2003 UEFA Cup and 2004 Champions League finals with Porto; the 2010 Champions League final with Internazionale; and the 2017 Europa League final with Manchester United.
At the final whistle, Mourinho held up five fingers to signify his five European titles as he jumped up and down in celebration.
It was a typical Mourinho match: take an early lead then defend, defend, defend.
« We know that when we take the lead we’re great at defending, » Mancini said. « In matches like these you’ve got to defend until the last second. »
Roma had lost their two previous continental finals, defeated by domestic rival Inter in the 1991 UEFA Cup and dropping a penalty shootout to Liverpool in the 1984 European Cup final in their home stadium.
« This is really a prize for the Friedkins, who gave this club a new identity, » Roma sports director Tiago Pinto said, referring to the club’s American owners. « It definitely won’t be the only trophy. »
Information from Reuters was used in this report.