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Last Night at the Olimpico: A First Hand Account

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One of our newest scribes had the pleasure of being at yesterday’s historic upset over Barcelona.

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

I had the privilege to be in the stadium for yesterday’s game against Barca. Here is my testimony as a Romanista, football enthusiast and as a human being.

Magical is probably the closest adjective to what went on yesterday evening in the sporting area located between Monte Mario and the River Tevere: the Stadio Olimpico. From the yellow and red colors that transformed Roma’s stadium into a single, unified and obviously gigantic Curva Sud to the performance of Di Francesco’s gladiators on the pitch, every single element of yesterday’s game was enchanting and dream-like. This is the reason why, even though it made me first smile when I saw it, I fully stand by the Corriere Dello Sport’s editorial choice of today to give a 10 points grade to every single player of AS Roma for their performance against the Catalans. They were stratospheric.

Edin Dzeko, however, was even beyond that. He showed to the world what a masterpiece of coordination, anticipation and strength he is. During this game, he displayed skills of a Nietzschean Über-striker. Dzeko dominated the Barca defense in the air, on the ground and I am sure that if it would have rained he would have dominated Umtiti and Piqué in the water, too. The multiplicity of his skills and his ability to succeed in whatever he was undertaking led me to think in the last minutes of the game that EDF could have asked our amphibious Number 9 to track back and play central back for a few minutes. And I am sure that he would have done the job equally well.

Dzeko scored a wonderful goal. He then secured a penalty that would give Roma a two-nil lead. Dzeko held-up play. He pressured the Barcelona defense running like a 18 year old youngster would do. More than that, Dzeko coordinated Roma’s pressing which was incredibly well-managed this time. He also dribbled with the skill of a winger. And last but not least, he had the grinta of a true leader and trascinatore of the whole team. So it seems, Alessandro Florenzi is not the only member of the AS Roma team to be a multi-purpose chameleon.

Just a word of tactics as I can’t refrain from it. EDF’s reliance on a defensive backline of three physical centre-backs proved to pay off – as we had anticipated on CdT. Where Roma’s coach showed however traits of a mastermind was when he steered his team to suffocate Barcelona’s play in in its own third stripping the Blaugrana away from the ball at every occasion. Knowing how much Barça likes to keep the ball, this was close to being a lese-majesty crime, wasn’t it?

Another genius move was to find a way out of Barca’s attacking pressure: long balls to Dzeko and Schick flying above Barca’s middle-field made the trick. It worked all the time. And beautifully. A super-physical, omnipresent and Iniesta-asphyxiating Strootman and a very attentive Juan Jesus who left very limited space to Leo Messi complemented the picture. Speaking of which, I bet that our goalie Alisson Becker dribbled more yesterday night than Messi and Iniesta did combined, or I am wrong?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I don’t know about you but this game was probably the most beautifully played game I ever saw in my life. The incredibly warm, joyful and engaging atmosphere at the Olimpico no doubt conditioned it from the start to the end. In one of his post-match interviews Manolas explained that the warmth of Roma’s fan base could carry the team anywhere. And he is right. Being located very close to the Barcelona fans corner, I was amazed by how few of them had come over to Rome for the game by comparison.

Needless to say the party went on outside of the stadium until late in the night. An overwhelming night that no Romanista wanted to see stop. An illustrating anecdote: I will not forget about that Roma fan who considered that the best way to deal with his emotions was to go for a run at 2 am throughout Roma area San Giovanni with a Totti shirt on, singing and singing Forza Roma, alè alè alè alè…