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Roma looking to end 20 years of hurt in Europa League Round of 16

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AS Roma Match Prgram (Tiziano Riccardi) The UEFA Cup/Europa League Round of 16 hasn’t been kind to Roma fans for a long time. For nearly 20 years, in fact. The Lira was still being used in Italy, Massimo D’Alema was Prime Minister and Francesco Rutelli led the Roman government. Their last success in this round came on 8th December 1998 in Switzerland, in the Letzigrund-Stadion, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception: Zeman’s Giallorossi drew 2-2 against Lima’s FC Zurich (the same Lima who played for Roma between 2001 and 2004) and led by coach Ponte (not the DJ Gabry, but the coach Raimondo). The draw was enough for the capital club to reach the quarter finals.

The first leg finished 1-0, thanks to a Totti penalty. It was a good result, but it didn’t put the tie beyond doubt. There was still a lot of hard work to do. As in the first leg, the captain was decisive in the 2-2 draw, this time by scoring directly from a free kick. The number 10’s set piece calmed the Boemo’s Roma down, after they had begun to worry when Bartlett (not the Argentine Gustavo Javier Bartelt, who was on the bench, but the South African Shaun Bartlett) scored a brace.

After their success in Switzerland, Roma have failed 5 consecutive times at this stage: Leeds (2000), Liverpool (2001), Villarreal (2004), Middlesbrough (2006) and Fiorentina (2015). All in all, since UEFA established the competition, Roma have played 12 times in the Round of 16. The final tally doesn’t make for good reading: 5 qualifications and 7 eliminations. There have been some big disappointments, but also some big successes. As always, it’s better to remember the positives.

Take the success of 1982, for instance, against the Germans of Koln. They were a very strong side at the time, made up of players who had just lost the World Cup final against Italy a few months before, such as the goalkeeper Schumacher or the playmaker Littbarski. Roma won the decisive game at the Olimpico 2-0, losing 0-1 in Germany. Iorio and Falcao scored, but recounting it like that doesn’t tell the whole story. It was one of the most symbolic games of Liedholm’s Roma side of the 1980s, who were mounting their charge towards a second scudetto that – even by itself – was enough to make history.

But that day – 8th December, like in 1998 – represented something unique. It was a step towards greatness. There are many memorable images. Il Divino’s run to the Curva Sud, as epic as his goal: he chested the ball down at a corner, let the ball drop and fired the ball just under the crossbar. It was also the first time the banner “Non passa lo straniero” was displayed. It was such an impressive display that Koln’s coach Michels gushed “I’ve never seen such an attacking Italian team”. The Belgian referee Schoeters added that he didn’t believe he’d ever seen such a colourful and noisy set of supporters: “It was like going into an inferno, I was almost afraid to start off with…”

Their double over Bordeaux in 1990/91 made less of an impact, but it was still an important step for Ottavio Bianchi’s team towards the final. Voller scored 4 in 180 minutes (a hat-trick in the first leg, a penalty in the second leg) as Roma won 5-0 in the first leg at home before winning 2-0 in France. Then came Brondby in 1995. They had already met in the semi-final in 1991 when Voller and Rizzitelli scored, and 4 years later they played each other again in the Round of 16. Roma won 3-1, and in the decisive match Totti played a key role, not only scoring the opener but most of all for his backheel assist that found Carboni to score the goal that made it 3-1 on the night. The record books and the history books need to be updated, the Europa League Round of 16 needs to become Roma’s territory once again.

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