Roma are heading for fairly untrodden ground as they prepare for the first leg of their Champions League playoff round tie with FC Porto this week, but qualification to the group stage is a must for Luciano Spalletti’s men.
The Champions League, with its allure and lucrative TV revenue, is where the Giallorossi really want to be competing this season and there are reasons to be positive ahead of their tie against the Portuguese side. Porto are not the force they have been in previous seasons, but they should certainly not be taken lightly and many of Europe’s top sides have fallen in the Dragao.
Roma have faced Porto once before, 35 years ago in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1981, but history is not on the Giallorossi’s side as the Portuguese team won 2-0 on aggregate in the second round. Their other trips to Portugal have been more successful though, having beaten Boavista (2000/01), Benfica (1990/91) and Belenenses (1963/64) and emerging with draws against Sporting CP (2007/08), and Benfica again (1982/83).
The Champions League playoff round is somewhat uncharted territory for Roma though, as their qualification to the group stage has always previously been automatic. This will be the first time the Giallorossi have competed in the Champions League playoff round, though they have previous experience of the Europa League playoffs in 2009/10 (under Spalletti) and 2011/12.
Back in 2009/10, Spalletti’s team made light work of both Gent and Kosice in the third qualifying round and the playoff round respectively. A 3-1 win at home to Gent (Totti (2) and Vucinic on the scoresheet) was followed by a 7-1 walloping in Belgium, with a hat-trick from Francesco Totti, two from Daniele De Rossi and one each from Jeremy Menez and Stefano Okaka. It was a similarly one-sided tie against Kosice, though the first leg ended in a 3-3 draw (Totti again scoring two, with Menez netting the other), Roma ran out 7-1 winners in the Olimpico with goals from Totti (3), Stefano Guberti, Alessio Cerci, Menez and John Arne Riise.
Sadly for Spalletti things were unravelling for him at Roma and he was soon replaced by Claudio Ranieri, who led Roma to the last 32 of the Europa League where they were eliminated by Panathinaikos.
The Giallorossi’s efforts in the 2011/12 playoff round were far less successful though; in the first official games of the American era, new coach Luis Enrique couldn’t lead his team past Slovan Bratislava to the Europa League group stages. A 1-0 away defeat was followed up with a 1-1 draw, and Roma were out of Europe – not returning for another 3 years when Rudi Garcia took them into the 2014/15 Champions League.