Roma end 60-year wait as Zaniolo seals Europa Conference League crown
- Final: Roma 1-0 Feyenoord
- Nicolò Zaniolo’s first-half goal enough for José Mourinho’s side
Nicolò Zaniolo’s goal earned Roma a first major European title in more than 60 years after a 1-0 win over Feyenoord in the Europa Conference League final in Albania, completing a unique European trophy haul for José Mourinho.
The Roma coach, who has also won the Champions League, Europa League and the Uefa Cup, can now add the third-tier European title – the Italian club’s first trophy in 14 years – to his medal tally.
The 22-year-old Zaniolo earned Roma victory with an expert finish in the 32nd minute, as he became the first Italian to score in a European final since Filippo Inzaghi against Liverpool in the 2007 Champions League.
Roma, whose only previous continental title was the Fairs Cup in 1961, held off a spirited comeback from their Dutch opponents, who were twice denied by the woodwork in the second half, and ensured that Mourinho became the first manager to win a European trophy with four different clubs.
“Winning is very difficult. You need many ingredients,” Mourinho said in the post-match press conference. “Our team has played 55 games. We reached the final being tired, but we worked on it, kept it hidden. This is a fantastic group of players, that makes me emotional. We struggled in the second half, our opponents played well and they forced us to make defensive changes. Congratulations to Feyenoord.”
The Roma captain, Lorenzo Pellegrini, told Sky Sport Italia: “We are a real team, we proved that. Now we have to celebrate and then start again, which is always difficult after a great victory, but a real team wins, celebrates and starts again.
“I said yesterday that I never would’ve imagined at the age of 25 to achieve this with the Roma jersey and the captain’s armband. It is a wonderful moment.”
Given both Roma and Feyenoord came into the contest having already secured Europa League football for next season through their domestic league positions, it was all about the glory in Tirana.
Early on it looked like there was only going to be one winner, as Roma dominated, without troubling Feyenoord goalkeeper Justin Bijlow, playing his first match since 10 March
One chance was all they needed to hold the lead at the interval, with Zaniolo brilliantly bringing the ball down on his chest before slotting in his first goal in all competitions since a hat-trick in the quarter-final against Bodo/Glimt.
Zaniolo also became the youngest Italian to score in a major European final since Alessandro Del Piero against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League in May 1997.
Feyenoord, aiming to be the first Dutch club to win a European competition in 20 years, since their 2002 Uefa Cup triumph, failed to really test Rui Patrício in the Roma goal in the first half.
Yet they started the second half brightly, with Roma’s Gianluca Mancini diverting an early Feyenoord corner on to his own post.
The Dutch side kept coming and hit the woodwork again as Tyrell Malacia’s superb strike from nearly 30 yards was tipped on to the post by Patrício.
Further chances came and went, but some last-ditch blocks and wasteful finishing ensured Roma’s long wait for a European trophy would end in Mourinho’s first season in the Italian capital.
The former Manchester United centre-back Chris Smalling told BT Sport: “We knew how much it was going to mean to everybody in Rome, and you can see how together we are, everybody fought until the end.
“We had to do that on a few occasions this year, we dropped a bit deeper than we maybe wanted to but we knew we had to do everything. You could see, strikers running back, everybody defending and we knew we had to win.”
Tammy Abraham, the former Chelsea forward, said Roma “deserved” their victory. “One thing I said when I came here was I was going to help the team get to the final and one day I want to win a trophy. In my first season I have achieved that,” he told BT Sport.
“Credit to my teammates, excellent performances. We deserve it. We have worked hard all year. I love them [the fans]. From day one I came here it has been the best. We are champions, I am happy to be a part of the team, now it is time to celebrate and enjoy.”
There were violent clashes in Tirana between fans of both clubs ahead of the final, and dozens were deported back to Italy.
Two separate groups of Dutch and Italian fans clashed with police in the city, injuring 19 officers and five Albanian civilians. One police officer was injured in a knife attack, authorities said. Three Italian fans and two Dutch supporters were also injured.
Inside the stadium, flares were thrown on to the field and stewards removed some fans before kick off after an apparent fight on the side where Dutch fans were sitting.