More important than anything following Saturday’s 1-0 win away at Fiorentina, Roma are officially back in the UEFA Champions League Group Stage proper; no qualifying rounds, no risk of falling to third or further below with the gap over Napoli a whopping 14 points with 12 left on the table. No team besides bottom of Serie A Catania has such a blanket; every other side, from Juventus in first to Livorno in 19th, could yet tumble out of their spot, from a purely mathematical sense. Roma cannot, and their reward is Europe’s greatest club competition.
- Horncastle: Garcia has worked magic with Roma With Radja Nainggolan’s goal -- following a fantastic assist from man of the moment and former Fiorentina man himself Adem Ljajic -- Rudi Garcia’s men officially fulfilled and exceeded expectations laid out for them at the beginning of the season. The 10-game winning streak may have had many dreaming of the Scudetto, but the board was unequivocal during the summer following last season’s disappointment: Europe or bust. Many other teams may be disappointed in one way or another this season -- surely Napoli and Juventus would have wanted more than a group stage exit from this season’s incarnation of the Champions League, surely Fiorentina would not want to be outside of the top 3 again -- but of Serie A’s top sides, Roma were among the best and most consistent. Their reward and destiny has been fulfilled and records made. For the first time in four seasons, Roma will play inter-continental football in the fall. Only once before this season had Roma ever won eight games in a row; this season, it happened twice. There are still nuts and bolts to sort out -- renewing Rudi Garcia and Mehdi Benatia chief among them, sorting out Miralem Pjanic’s future certainly up there as well -- but how could there not be sheer relief and joy? The summer will be the time to speculate, to sort out exactly how the club will reinforce to enter into more competitions against Europe’s greats next season. Greats almost certainly await; Roma’s absence from the Champions League and Europa League for so long has dented the club’s co-efficient to the point where a place in pot four in drawing is nearly guaranteed. No matter. When at full strength this season, the club went toe-to-toe with many an adversary. Hanging onto the key players and adding smart depth should help the club remain fearless and passionate ahead of even more difficult matchups. The Fiorentina game itself -- the one that confirmed Roma’s fate for next season -- was open and contentious, with a possible penalty not called for the home side. But history suggests this was not an anomaly. In the seven games that Vincenzo Montella has faced his former team as a coach, he has never once won. His only two ties came as a coach of Catania, as well, meaning that his five matches as coach of Fiorentina have begotten five losses between the league and the Coppa. Overcoming his former team seems to be Montella’s bigger challenge as a coach, and it only rubs salt in the wound that the loss that gave Roma a berth in the Champions League pushed his own Fiorentina team even further away. Mission accomplished. The final four games should be played with pride and substance, no matter if Juventus crash and burn horrifically or win the Scudetto as soon as they mathematically can, as expected. Last summer Lazio held a funeral; they did not realize at the time they were merely mourning the death of the old Roma. From the ashes arose a club far greater.