Roma defied pre-match odds off 66 /1 to overturn a 4-1 first-leg deficit and send Barcelona packing from the Champions League thanks to a 3-0 win that saw them advance to the semi-finals on away goals.
In truth, not even the most realistic Roma supporter out there imagined that such a feat was within grasp.
Yet, when French referee Clement Turpin blew the final whistle, a new page of history was written for this traditional club that has so often punched below its weight throughout history.
The script was already written and the eleven players delivered their lines to perfection. Unfazed by the packed stadium and the tense atmosphere, they came, they saw, they won.
All this despite the recent torpor in Serie A which includes Saturday’s shambolic 2-0 home defeat to Fiorentina , who tragically lost their captain Davide Astori one month earlier.
Led by their vocal captain Daniele De Rossi, the Roma players talked the talk about walking the walk in the dressing room. And they lasted the pace.
Yet, when defender Kostantinos Manolas headed home the goal that saw them progress on away goals, the whole country erupted in jubilations.
And Roma showed their intentions immediately as Edin Dzeko’s early opener was a clear statement of intent.
In a post-match interview, manager Eusebio Di Francesco, who won the Italian Serie A with Roma as a fringe player in 2001, revealed that he stayed up for two nights to study Barcelona’s weaknesses. He gave Barcelona a lesson in tactics by undoing them and successfully passed the ‘Spanish’ exam with an A plus grade.
The other day when discussing Roma’s biggest European achievements with a fanatical fan, it was brought to my attention that the Giallorossi came close to winning the Champions League on home soil in 1984.
The fact that it had been already 33 years since they last went past the quarter-final of Europe’s premier competition makes it pardonable that I did not remember.
But in equal measure it makes Tuesday’s sensational victory against a European powerhouse the more symbolic.
In fact, in 1984 Liverpool did to Roma what Chelsea did to Bayern Munich 28 years later, spoiling their house party and stealing the cup from under their noses.
And that’s a wound Roma only managed to partly close 17 years later. A last-day 3-0 win over Parma saw them win their first Italian league title in two decades.
Ever since, the capital club’s biggest achievements have been two Italian Super Cups and three Italian Cups, a figure far too low to be regarded as among the giants of Italian and European football.
But the 3-0 capitulation of Barcelona might have given them a new dimension in European football.
In fact, for decades, Rome’s fame around the world has been confined to the Roman Empire, the Colosseum and the legendary Francesco Totti, the icon of the city, who retired in tears one year ago and who is also respected and admired by Lazio fans, which is telling.
He could have won a couple of Champions League trophies had he accepted to join either Real Madrid or AC Milan in 2002, yet he preferred staying, winning less and going down as one of the greatest one-club players ever. Totti’s talent, his longevity and his loyalty can only be matched by the likes of Paolo Maldini, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Franco Baresi and Giuseppe Bergomi.
The fact that the club managed to tie him down for life is probably the biggest achievement in their history. Or it was.
Because fans will talk about Tuesday’s game for days, weeks, months, years and probably decades to come.
‘Roma capitale, Milano succursale’- Rome the capital, Milan the branch, is a famous saying that people from Rome use to declare their territorial superiority to the people from Milan.
For ages they have been boasting that they have the more glamorous city, fascinating architecture, delicious food and the sunnier weather adding that in terms of tourism and quality of life they are light-years ahead of their Northern counterparts.
But they were always short of arguments when football was brought up, with Milan and Inter boasting 36 Serie A titles between them as opposed to Rome’s five.
Thus, undisturbed by those bragging claims, people from Milan confidently responded that they could also only dream about their city’s financial strength, job opportunities, the Quadrilatero d’Oro– the city’s golden shopping rectangle which is made up of four streets and pure fashion, their buzzing nightlife and the Fashion Weeks which yearly attract hundreds of thousands of people from every corner of the world. However, from a sporting point of view, things have changed.
Milan and Inter have struggled to cope with both Lazio and Roma in the domestic Serie A in recent years, with the capital clubs the overwhelming favourites to qualify for next year’s Champions League alongside Juventus and Napoli.
And should Roma avenge the 1984 Champions League final defeat by overcoming a Mohammed Salah-inspired Liverpool in the semi-final, the world would be at their feet like never before. And strangely so without the emblematic presence of Francesco Totti, who retired one year too soon.
Supporters of Milan and Inter, joyous for Roma’s midweek exploits, won’t mind conceding defeat and admitting that for the first time in history, their city has been eclipsed in footballing terms.
The miraculous comeback against Barcelona has finally put Roma on the European map.
And if to that we add the fact that Juventus almost overturned a 3-0 first-leg deficit by beating Real Madrid 3-1 away on Wednesday, we can state in no uncertain terms that the world has witnessed the resurgence of Italian football.