I stumbled upon the lineup from another 1-0 loss in England which played a large part in showing Roma the exit door from a European competition, this one just 24 months ago in the 2005-06 UEFA Cup. Just for kicks, take a look:
1 Gianluca Curci
2 Christian Panucci
5 Philippe Mexes
4 Samuel Kuffour
25 Leandro Cufre
30 Alessandro Amantino
15 Olivier Dacourt
11 Rodrigo Taddei
17 Damiano Tommasi
14 Houssine Kharja
20 Simone Perrotta
Quite frankly, we had no business expecting Roma to make two straight quarter final Champions League runs on limited resources just two years after that lineup took the field, but they did. We have no business expecting that lineup, over the course of two years, to transition into a scudetto contender, but they are. A solid team it was, no doubt; but now, to take the same field as megamillionaires and Mercenaries R' Us Internazionale and Manchester United and feel like they can not only compete, but win? Nigh unbelievable.
In two years this team has gone from a UEFA Cup also-ran to one of the most highly spoken of teams on the continent, with a core of players and a coach who could walk onto any team in the world. A constant focus of boyish gushing for the brightest minds in the sport, and the blueprint for, a term which may be a bit premature but still apt, world-beaters Manchester United. Roma has come a long way in a short time.
Much of the team is still in or entering its prime (minus Il Capitano, a harrowing thought, but not the end of the world - or maybe it is), and new superstars are emerging almost weekly. Mirko Vucinic has transformed into our wildest dreams, and the Balkans Maradona tag seems immensely appropriate. Juan has been, when available, a stunning addition to the side, and surely one of the biggest steals of last summer's mercato on the continent - not to mention making the Chivu sale look like smart business. Alberto Aquilani, also an unfortunate victim of injury, has at the very least given glimpses of something extraordinarily special, and who knows what an injury-free year would provide.
Then there's Daniele De Rossi. In short, he's everything you hope for in an athlete. He eats, sleeps and breathes AS Roma. Pure class, pure passion. It will be a difficult day when Roma loses its icon, talisman, and captain, but how many teams can say they'd lose a Francesco Totti and have a wildly gifted, breathtakingly passionate, hometown player waiting in the wings, ready to keep things running in stride? Zero? Or perhaps that's too high a number. Roma is lucky to have Totti, but it's equally as lucky to have De Rossi. He comes to define why Roma is known as La Magica, and why it is so beloved.
There's a saying in boxing which says "styles make fights", and it can be applied across the board in sports. Unfortunately in Manchester they employ a similar style, and simply have more resources and a higher degree of talent at their disposal. It was an impossible mission from the start. But all in all, it's hard to call this anything but a successful run. It's been a long time since Roma fans have enjoyed the heights of the win in Madrid, a massive result against the richest team in the world, and one which is still the top team in the top league, according to UEFA. They went deeper than any Italian team, and still have much to build on. The squad, the system and the team mentality will be tweaked and strengthened before next year. Adaption will be key, and the more time in the system and under Spalletti, the better the team will be.
This was never going to be an overnight process. As has been said here many times, "it's a journey, not a destination". Simply part of the journey, and another "experience". The core will regroup and ready itself for another challenge, almost assuredly with a few fresh faces looking to upgrade the quality of the squad, and use these experiences as they fight for the chance to defend their home fortress in next year's final.
Two years ago, it would've been hard to imagine a missed penalty in the 30th minute of a Champions League quarter final against the best team in the world striking such a resounding blow simply because there was so much belief Roma could actually win the game. That, in itself, is simply remarkable.
There will be a good deal of time for 20/20 hindsight vision, and chalkboard lessons on what went wrong where, but for now, it was a great run, and here's to next year - and, perhaps, maybe even a bit of destiny.
It's only supposed to be played during wins, but it seems more than worthy of run in the jukebox right now.
Unquestionably the most difficult game remaining this year, and I think - "think" being written hesitantly, perhaps with even a hint of tremble - that's a good thing. I'm glad they don't have time to think about Manchester, or keep it in the back of their minds as though Catania was coming to town over the weekend. If they want to stay focused and stay in the hunt for major silverware, they need to focus 100% on the Udinese game. I suspect they know this. (And if Udinese wins, you can feel free to call me an idiot.)
The great decider is, of course, what the squad list looks like come the weekend, and whether or not we'll be graced with the presence of one Il Capitano. Even if he is back, it's unlikely he'll be in vintage form, and at best they'll have to do with a less than fully fit Totti. Of course, Totti at 75% is still better than 100% of the players on the pitch, so the only gauge will be about 15 minutes after the opening whistle. Til then, we pray.*
* - Roma news says there's been improvement, let's hope that continues.
As far as Udinese goes, they're in a pretty good run of form right now, not having lost since February. It'll take a minor miracle for them to nab the almighty fourth champions league spot, but they won't play with any less urgency. Fab Quags and Toto, the two unquestioned dangermen, were on form tag team style during March. A huge worry because, as I'm sure everyone's seen once or twice, you almost need a defender to slap handcuffs on Quags as soon as he enters the opposition's half because he can score from the second deck. A true exercise in playing 90 minutes, as the last game displayed (and let's hope for the sake of a result Udinese doesn't go down 3 men this time and score a quad in six minutes).
It'll be a big test of their mettle. Today they looked as though they were running on adrenaline and panic for the first segment of the game before settling down and fighting for their European lives. It didn't work against ManU, but Udinese is no ManU. A similar outlook will be very welcome, and quite probably successful, this weekend in Udine.
News stuffs tomorrow, tonight it's just: