AS Roma won their first major European title in more than 60 years when Nicolo Zaniolo’s first-half goal gave Italy a 1-0 win over Feyenoord Rotterdam in Wednesday’s Europa Conference League final in Albania.
Zaniolo, 22, turned the ball home in the 32nd minute with a left foot kick after first taking it off his chest to make Roma their first winners in the new European third division club competition launched this season became .
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Roma, whose only previous continental title was the old Fairs Cup in 1961, held off a spirited comeback from their Dutch opponents, who were twice denied to woodwork in the second half, and ensured Jose Mourinho became the first manager to win a European trophy won trophy with four different clubs.
Roma goalkeeper Rui Patricio made important saves when Feyenoord took the game to Italy and enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but always looked vulnerable on counterattacks.
“Now we have to celebrate – very much,” said Roma captain Lorenzo Pellegrini. “But then we have to move on. A real team wins and then comes back even stronger than before.
“I said yesterday that I could never imagine being able to do that with the Roma shirt and the captain’s armband at the age of 25. It’s a wonderful moment.”
In addition to the few thousand Roma spectators in the small national arena in Tirana, around 50,000 fans watched the game on huge screens in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. At the final whistle, the Olimpico fans celebrated on the pitch, waving banners and singing the team’s songs
Before the final, violent clashes broke out between fans of both clubs in Tirana, and dozens were deported to Italy.
Two separate groups of Dutch and Italian fans clashed with police in the city on Tuesday, injuring 19 officers and five Albanian civilians. A police officer was injured in a knife attack, authorities said. Three Italian fans and two Dutch supporters were also injured.
Flares were thrown onto the pitch at the stadium and the stewards removed some fans before kick-off after an apparent struggle on the side where Dutch fans were seated.
After the kick-off, the situation seemed to be under control.
Zaniolo’s goal started with a ball from centre-back Gianluca Mancini, which Zaniolo chested. Zaniolo then toeed the ball past oncoming goalkeeper Justin Bijlow.
“Great. Let’s enjoy this moment,” said Zaniolo before gesturing to the Roma fans. “There are no words to describe it. It’s everything to her.”
Zaniolo has often been cited as Italy’s most talented young player. But he was held back by two serious knee injuries, one of which ruled him out for the whole of last season and prevented him from taking part in the Azzurri’s run to the European title.
At 22 years and 327 days, Zaniolo became the youngest Italian player to score in a European final since Alessandro Del Piero scored at the age of 22 years and 200 days for Juventus in a defeat by Borussia Dortmund in the 1997 Champions League final .
As an attacking midfielder, Zaniolo recorded five goals and three assists in 10 Conference League games.
After Zaniolo’s goal – realizing how long it would take – Mourinho gestured for his excited bench players to sit down and calm down.
Feyenoord came on full of energy after the break and hit the post twice quickly, first with a shot from close range by Gernot Trauner, then with a long-range effort from Tyrell Malacia that Patricio bounced off the post.
Mourinho extended his perfect record in European finals to five trophies in five games, having also won the 2003 UEFA Cup and 2004 Champions League finals with Porto. the 2010 Champions League final with Internazionale; and the 2017 Europa League final with Manchester United.
At the final whistle, Mourinho held up five fingers to signify his five European titles as he jumped up and down in celebration.
It was a typical Mourinho match: take an early lead, then defend, defend, defend.
“We know that we can defend well when we take the lead,” said Mancini. “In games like this you have to defend to the last second.”
Roma had lost their previous two continental finals, defeating domestic rivals Inter in the 1991 UEFA Cup and losing a penalty shoot-out to Liverpool in the 1984 European Cup final at their home ground.
“It’s really a prize for the Friedkins, who have given this club a new identity,” said Roma sporting director Tiago Pinto, referring to the club’s American owners. “It will definitely not remain the only trophy.”
Information from Reuters was used in this report.