Paulo Dybala’s 89th-minute penalty secured Roma a place in next season’s Europa League as they beat Spezia 2-1 in a dramatic match at the Stadio Olympico on Sunday night.
The result means relegation-threatened Spezia will face Hellas Verona in a relegation play-off next week despite taking the lead after six minutes from a Dimitris Nikolaou header.
Jose Mourinho’s side needed a win tonight to prevent Juventus from overtaking them in the Serie A table. Max Allegri’s side were just a point behind them in seventh place at the start of tonight’s games.
The Old Lady secured a 1-0 win over Udinese tonight but it was Roma who won the final Place in the Europa League thanks to the resistance against Spezia.
While qualifying for the Europa League is cause for celebration, it also came at a price as Tammy Abraham suffered a bad knee injury after coming on as a second-half substitute and had to be taken off the field in pain.
There were many topics of conversation in that game, most of which revolved around Roma manager Mourinho, with the question of Mourinho staying at the Serie A club next season aroused lately.
The 60-year-old was heavily criticized this week after he uttered insulting words to referee Antony Taylor following Roma’s Europa League final defeat by Sevilla.
And although he has since been charged by UEFA, he was not on the sidelines at the Stadio Olympico tonight as he is serving a suspension after receiving his fifth yellow card of the season in his side’s 2-1 defeat by Fiorentina last week had.
Nonetheless, fans at the Stadio Olympico applauded the head coach and cheered loudly when the Italian’s name was announced above the Tannoy, before unveiling a banner that read ‘We’re with you Mou’.
Although it has been a difficult week for Roma after Thursday’s bitter defeat, it was clear they were still feeling the effects of that final and conceded a goal within six minutes of kick-off.
Spezia fired a free kick into Roma’s box while Medhi Bourabia collected the ball on the right side of the box.
With excellent vision, he threw a quick cross into the far corner of the six-yard box where Nikolaou headed the ball, sent it into the ground and past Mile Svilar into the net to score his first goal of the season.
Shortly afterwards, Spezia was sent off when Stephan El Shaarawy deflected a threatening shot from 25 meters onto the bar. The Italian was one of four substitutes for Roma after the midweek defeat, replacing Leonardo Spinazzola while Abraham, Rui Patricio and Nemanja Matic also started on the bench.
The home side started the game a little better and took the lion’s share of possession but struggled to create chances. Andrea Belotti got into the box twice in quick succession and raised his hands for two penalties, claiming a handball on both occasions. Neither was given.
El Shaarawy also scored a more powerful penalty soon after, breaking through before colliding with Kelvin Amian Adou in the penalty area and falling to the ground. The referee waved again.
Paulo Dybala embodied Roma’s first-half disappointments as they missed the net and flicked another but menacing shot over the bar from long range. But that was in large part testament to the Spezia defense as Leonardo Semplici’s side frustrated the Europa League finalists for much of the first 45 minutes.
However, Roma finally managed to break the deadlock just before half-time when Zalewski fired a curling ball into the box. Bove seems to break free and throws the ball into the net. He turned away and seemed to take the goal from his teammate, but on second glance it was difficult to tell if he had touched the ball or even changed the direction of the ball’s flight.
In any case, Roma would come into play at half-time but should have been a few goals ahead with 71 percent possession and ten shots on goal in the first half.
Roma started the second half much better, with Zalewski once again showing his manual dexterity and playing a wonderful pass over the goal towards Lorenzo Pellegrini, who just couldn’t quite wrap the ball around to scoop it up.
Belotti was substituted in the 63rd minute, meaning he would end his first season at Roma after failing to score in Serie A despite making 30 league appearances that season. He would be replaced by Abraham who, like Mourinho, is heavily linked with a move from the club.
But midway through the second half word spread around the stadium that Juventus had scored, knocking Roma out of the Europa League spots, and after a few hectic minutes on the Roma touchline frustration was simmering.
Nzola could have made it 2-1 for Spezia when he found a cross from Szymon Zurkowski in the penalty area but fired his shot over the bar. Roma, meanwhile, stormed up from the other end of the pitch, with Dybala breaking through to get the ball inside the box but tangling with Arkadiusz Reca and demanding a penalty from the referee, but to no avail.
The Argentine was in the thick of the action just five minutes later, receiving a yellow card after colliding with several opponents before testing Jeroen Zoet at the net with a stunning shot from outside the box, perhaps the game’s chance.
The Spezia keeper was about to deny Roma another chance soon after, but after several penalties during the game, El Shaarawy drove into the box and was brought down by Amian, who received his second yellow card and was sent to the stands.
Dybala converted the powerful penalty and sent his shot into the top left corner to score his 12th league goal of the season.
Eight minutes of added time were added but Spezia were unable to equalize and will now join Hellas Verona in the relegation play-off next week after being beaten 3-1 by AC Milan.
ROMA: (3-4-2) Svilar; Celik (Llorente 46′); Reduction; mancini; Zalewski; Bove (Matic 64′); Cristiante; pellegrini; El Shaarawy; Dybala; Belotti (Abraham 64′).
Unused subs: Boer; Patricio; Roger Ibanez; Solbakken; spinazzola; Tahirovic; Volpato; Wijnaldum; matic; Llorente; Karsdorp; Darboe; camera; Abraham
Goals: Zalewski 43′
Bookings: Pellegrini 44′
Coaches: Jose Mourinho
SPECIAL: (3-4-2) Zoeth; Wisniewski; Ampadu; Nikolaou; Amian; Zurkowski; esposito; Bourabia; Reca; Gyasi; Nzola.
Unused subs: Dragowski; zovko; verde; Shomurodov; Sala; Marchetti; Maldini; krollis; Kovalenko; Ferrer; ekdal; cipot; caldara; bastoni; Agudelo.
Goals: Nicholas 6′
Bookings: esposito 14′; Nicholas 6′
Coaches: Leonardo Semplici
Referee: Fabio Maresca
Player of the Game: TBA
Venue: Stadio Olimpico (Rome)