Edin Dzeko a colossus for Roma in historic comeback over Barcelona
Roma made it through to the Champions League semifinals for just the second time in their history after an incredible, magical night at the Stadio Olimpico that will live long in the memory of those who were lucky enough to be there. Looking down and out after losing the first leg 4-1, Roma pulled out a era-defining display that saw them deservedly dump out Lionel Messi and Barcelona following a 3-0 victory.
uTo say that Roma were magnificent is to criminally underplay just how good they were on Tuesday night. Eusebio Di Francesco's side tore into Barca from the first minute, and as soon as man-of-the-match Edin Dzeko poked home his sixth-minute opener, the raucous crowd got a sniff of something special. Chance after chance went begging in the first half, but when the fantastic Daniele De Rossi -- the architect of the first goal -- lashed home a penalty brilliantly won by Dzeko 13 minutes after the break the home fans ramped the noise up and Barca completely folded.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen looked to have saved the away side's skin when he produced a miracle stop from substitute Stephan El Shaarawy late on, but then up stepped Kostas Manolas, who purged the ghosts of his own goal at the Camp Nou last week and made a Marco Tardelli-esque dash to celebrate with his teammates.
Newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano called it "perhaps the greatest night in Roma's history," even more significant than the 3-0 win that took them to the final at the expense of Dundee United in 1984. While there are two contemporary era league titles to contend with for significance, this might very well have have been the best ever performance by a Roma team. After a display like this, who's to say they can't go all the way?
Where to begin? Every single player gave a career highlight performance, executing their manager's instructions to a tee and swamping the La Liga champions elect from the off. A major shoutout should go to the three goalscorers however -- Manolas and De Rossi for cancelling out their first-leg own goals, and Dzeko for not putting a foot wrong all night. Almost sold to Chelsea in the summer, that was a contender for the best 90 minutes of the Bosnian's career.
The 60,000 Romanisti could have done without Alisson having to charge out to clear the ball with seconds left on the clock.
10 -- It was an extremely brave move by Eusebio Di Francesco to start with a back three containing Juan Jesus, and to give Patrik Schick his Champions League debut alongside Dzeko, but both moves worked, despite Schick's imprecision in front of goal. Most of all though, it was the incredible pressing and determination that was so daring. It worked -- and how.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Alisson, 7 -- Only had three saves to make, and none were particularly testing.
DF Federico Fazio, 8 -- Any Tottenham fans watching this match must have wondered what on Earth Spurs fed him while he was in London.
DF Kostas Manolas, 9 -- His winner, and the full on Sparta celebrations that followed, will be spoken about for a very long time.
DF Juan Jesus, 8 -- Helped keep Lionel Messi quiet. Just think about that for a second.
MF Alessandro Florenzi, 8 -- Up and down the right flank like the player we all know and love, and he didn't waste possession this time out.
MF Kevin Strootman, 7 -- Probably the lowest key display of the night, but tactically perfect.
MF Daniele De Rossi, 9 -- Took the game by the scruff of the neck like a captain should. Great assist for Dzeko's opener and nerves of steel to slot his penalty.
MF Radja Nainggolan, 8 -- The man who tears up grass and opposition midfields is back.
MF Aleksandar Kolarov, 7 -- The attacking full-back was excellent. A constant threat and brilliant defensively.
FW Patrik Schick, 7 -- Missed some good chances but kept plugging away and his presence liberated Dzeko.
FW Edin Dzeko, 9 -- A colossus. Set Roma on their way with the early opener and bashed Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique all over the park.
FW Stephan El Shaarawy, N/R -- Extremely unlucky not to get the third himself.
FW Cengiz Under, 8 -- It was his brilliant corner that Manolas headed home.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley