Whether it was Alessandro Spugna at the helm or Betty Bavagnoli before him, Roma has always played with a clearly defined purpose, never wavering in their self-confidence. With stalwarts like Elisa Bartoli, Giada Greggi, Claudia Ciccotti, and Annamaria Serturini here from day one, and with standouts like Andressa and Elena Linari arriving since then (and joined over the years by intelligent players like Vanessa Bernauer and Andrine Hegerberg), Roma has always been bold, brave and up to any task—and doing it all with a distinctly Roman flair.
And all the toil and sacrifice that fueled that self-belief has borne remarkable fruit: a place in the Champions League. The moment has finally arrived. Roma is no longer at the doorstep of Europe's most prestigious tournament; they've entered the room—and they may not be quiet guests either.
After slugging their way through a four-stage qualification campaign that took them from the banks of the River Clyde to the heart of Bohemia, Roma outwitted and outclassed Glasgow City and Paris FC before sweeping past Sparta Prague (not to be confused with Thursday's opponents, Slavia Prague) in the final two-legged entry into the Champions League Group stage.
Pitted against defending Czech champions Slavia Prague, defending German champions Wolfsburg, and defending Austrian champions St. Pölten, Roma has a tough row to hoe. Still, many said the same thing when the Giallorosse set sail for Glasgow in August—and we all know how that turned out.
Speaking to his club's confidence, Spugna pointed directly to the insight and confidence they gained during the sheer measure of this journey (emphasis is mine):
"Probably that the draw was quite kind, I'll be honest. But, having said that, when you are playing at European level it's never going to be easy. You have to play the matches. I think now we have a different view of ourselves compared to when we started the play-off matches. As you play, as you produce decisive performances, your confidence grows. We need to take that into this group stage, with respect for all our opponents"
And keep in mind that he is suggesting (indirectly, perhaps) that Roma are on the same level as (and definitely aren't scared of) champions of three different European leagues, including Wolfsburg, who've hoisted the Champions League trophy twice.
A point echoed by midfielder Manuela Giugliano:
"There's definitely a lot of different emotions right now, even if we already experienced some of them during the play-in games for this competition. I think we have shown the quality we have. And, putting that together with the emotions we were feeling, we were able to make it to the group stage of this competition."
She chose a gentler tact but essentially suggested the same thing: they're not shying away from this challenge. However, I'd take it a step further and suggest that Roma's presence is precisely what makes this group so challenging.
Of course, as Spugna said, things in Europe are never easy, so Roma will have to remain somewhat flexible in their thinking. In a separate podcast, defender Carinna Wenninger conceded that Roma would have to adapt to the competition, a point Spugna addressed during Wednesday's press conference while adding further nuance by discussing the role attitude plays in striking that balance:
"I heard what Carina had to say. I think that she was trying to say something else. It's not that we need to adapt to the opponent, but that we need a different attitude – because in Europe you will come up against sides that are very different to many in Italy. So you need to make some adjustments for that."
"That I agree with her, absolutely. But that doesn't mean we can't be attacking or aggressive. It just means that we need to have a sense about us that perhaps in the league we can get away with not always having. That's it. So, as I say, I agree with her."
Giugliano, bold as ever, wasn't quite as considerate of the notion as Spugna, quickly dismissing the idea that Roma should adjust to anyone in this group:
"Adjust to the opposition, absolutely not. We will try to go out there and play to our strengths: keep the ball on the group, which is the Roma way. We are going up against a really physical side but if we impose our way of play then I don't think we will need to adapt to anything. I think we've already shown that in the league this season and our European games so far. We have already faced some really physical sides but thanks to the way we play we have been able to get the results."
Simple, direct, and brimming with confidence, Giugliano is the Giallorosse writ large. She then expanded on the source of Roma's confidence:
"There's a lot of confidence in the group we have been able to build this season. Not just from pre-season but even from last season, because I think we did lots of good things last season and we have picked up again from that point this term. So there's a good atmosphere within the group, built on a lot of confidence in what we've been able to build so far."
Later, Giugliano provided insight into the club's preparation for this match and her role in Roma's tactics:
"Balance is always crucial in any match; you need someone in central midfield who can keep the ball and win it back as well. It's definitely important to read the game well in the middle of the park. I think that a lot of a match can be decided in that area. I think we can still work on that aspect of things, to improve things even more defensively."
"In terms of our edge in front of goal, it's something we are working on in training. I think it's one thing that we have always had some room for improvement, which we've seen in the past. But we have improved a lot in that aspect compared to a few years ago."
Spugna brought it all back full circle, speaking once again to that clearly defined purpose we discussed at the outset (emphasis is once again mine):
"You have to have a lot of respect for a side that has won 22 league titles. They have players that have been playing at a European level for many years. During our preparations we need to look at ways of nullifying their strengths."
"We need to prepare for this one by focusing on the attributes they have. But we also need to play the game the way we know how to play."
Roma's spirit may be strong and clearly defined, but the path that led them here certainly wasn't. However, the Giallorosse owe their confidence (in part) to that circuitous route, one that has brought them to a place where a club that didn't even exist five years ago now has a legitimate chance to make out of a group that includes three defending league champions, including one that conquered Europe twice in the past ten years.
It's hard to believe the day has finally come, but the next phase in Roma's grand plan begins Thursday at 21:00 CET/3 PM EDT at the Stadio Francioni in Latina.