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My Favorite Story of 2018: The Build-Up to Barcelona

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The eternally optimistic fan in me turned out to be spot on for once.

AS Roma v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Recently bren asked us to reflect on 2018, including our work here at CdT. My work on the site has been a mix of news/rumor based pieces with a sprinkling in of opinion writing, but only one piece that I had written instantly sprang to mind as something truly memorable. I wrote a piece titled “DiFrancesco Vows to Play His Best XI v Barca” prior to the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals.

As you probably recall, Roma had been thumped at the Camp Nou in the first leg and things looked bleak heading into the return leg at the Olimpico. With the always important Derby della Capitale looming on the weekend immediately after the second leg, many speculated whether Roma should relinquish its Champions Leg dreams and rest some of its best players for the derby. After all, Roma seemed to have little hope of completing a comeback from down 4-1 and the race for a Champions League spot was tight with Inter and Lazio.

I thought from the get go that the right move would be to field the most competitive squad possible against Barca. After all it was the Champions League quarterfinals and even if it was unlikely that Roma would win the tie, I felt that I Lupi should at least attempt to show they belong and avoid an embarrassing aggregate scoreline. So, when EdF announced that he would play his best XI, I wrote the aforementioned piece in support of his decision.

When I wrote the piece, even the eternal optimist in me felt that winning the tie was a long shot at best, but I figured it’s not every day a club like Roma make a run this deep into Europe. So, why the hell not give it your best shot?

The following were the reasons I gave in support of DiFrancesco’s decision:

  • Pride- I wanted the players and coach to have as much pride in the crest as the fans.
  • Gaining Respect in Europe- A positive result could help garner some respect among Europe’s elite clubs.
  • Keeping/Attracting Players- Players would be more likely to stay or come, if Roma could prove to be competitive with Euope’s best.
  • Lazio’s Europa League Match- Lazio would have 48 hours less rest than Roma prior to the derby.
  • The Olimpico- Roma had to show the distinct home field advantage the Olimpico affords them and utilize it.

I was unable to watch the game live, as I’d be at work, but during the course of the match I received a message from bren saying something to the effect of “your piece is looking pretty genius right now”. Little could I have known just how smart the decision would become on EdF’s part, but I became even more anxious to get home and turn on the DVR. On my way out of the classroom a bit later, Juan, my school’s custodian, who always chats with me about soccer told me that Roma won, but when I said I was DVRing the match he didn’t go into detail. Had they won the match and been eliminated on aggregate or was it something bigger I wondered?

When I got home I watched the match, my optimism growing with each goal until it finally erupted into elation. Roma had done it against all odds; thanks largely in part to EdF coming up with a top notch game plan and fielding his best XI, which proved to be up to the task of performing miracles on that day.

My piece could easily have turned into a dud if Roma had gotten embarrassed by Barcelona and then lost the derby and jeopardized a spot in this season’s Champions League. Instead, Roma pulled off the miracle to advance to the Champions League semifinals for the first time ever and the derby ended in a draw, which allowed Roma to eventually finish five points ahead of their city rivals for a CL spot. The fact that my optimism was justified with the team’s on the field performance, makes that piece my most memorable of 2018.