Damir Skomina blew the whistle at the end of a long 90 min and signaled the end of Roma’s journey in the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League season. Half-heartedly, with disappointment evident on their faces, A.S. Roma’s fans made towards the exit. Just minutes ago their hearts were filled with hope as A.S. Roma made a last ditch attempt to secure a spot in the Champions League Final in Kyiv.
With a couple of minutes of the second leg of this Champions League semifinal, after what had been an extraordinary two games of football. Liverpool still, madly, held the lead by 7-5 on aggregate. Roma had to score twice to force the game into extra time. Both set of players were exhausted and left with very little fuel in their tanks. The Roma players seemed to have accepted the fact that it wouldn’t be them heading to Kyiv to take on Los Blancos. The mindset of the players had made its way into the Roma fans inside the Stadio Olimpico.
In the dying efforts of the game the ball hurtled onto the hand of Liverpool defender Ragnar Klavan and Damir Skomina, the referee, awarded a penalty. Radja Nainggolan stepped up and slotted it hard into the goal. Suddenly there was a glimmer of hope: the just needed one goal to accomplish what had seemed an impossible task at the beginning of the night. Their only enemy; time.
That moment, perfectly characterized a semifinal that constantly swung between enthralling and chaotic. This is what the competition is all about. To the joy of the travelling KOP and to the discontent of the A.S. Roma fans, Skomina finally blew his whistle and confirmed Liverpool’s first Champions League final appearance in 11years.
Credit to Eusebio Di Francesco’s team as they almost managed to recover from the disaster at Anfield the previous week, they even refused to let their heads down when Sadio Mané gave Liverpool the lead 10 minutes into the second leg, and yet again when Georginio Wijnaldum restored the Red’s lead 25 minutes into the second leg. Requiring Roma to score 4 and not concede any over the next 65 minutes to force extra time.
This team deserved the ecstatic applaud it was given by its faithfull at the end of a sorrowful night for the club. It was a tam performance any set of fans would be proud of, and as if they didn’t have it before, after tonight they certainly had the respect of Jurgen Klopp and all the reds fans inside the Stadio Olimpico that night.
Additionally it sends a message about Liverpool; about its inevitable attraction towards drama, its tendency to live every moment on edge, its determination to rise up above and fall with its own waves of sentiments: these are the strength that make the club what it is and also the weaknesses that lead to its downfall.
What an amazing season its been for Liverpool. Who didn’t even qualify for the Champions League directly; they had to take the long route and play a qualifier against TSG Hoffenheim. Yet, they now find themselves face to face with Los Blancos, who’ve made the final three times in the last three years. While, on the contrary Liverpool find themselves in the final for the first time in eleven years.
The achievements Liverpool have made this season are remarkable but so is the manner in which they were accomplished. Liverpool have put up a staggering tally of 130 goals this season despite getting eliminated early in the domestic cups. Liverpool have played 56 games and now hold the record for most goals scored in a Champions League campaign. Totaling 46 goals in 14 games with one yet to be played. Liverpool’s front three are on par with Barcelona’s all-star front three and Real Madrid’s front three as well.
When you think about this inexpericned Liverpool squad its insane what they have achived. Last night at the Stadio Olimpico the Liverpool bench didn’t have a senior midfielder, had an 18-yr old academy product at right-back, had a left back who was playing in Scotland’s lower leagues four years ago and was brought in for a mere 8 million from a relegated Hull city side, and lastly had to bring on Estonian veteran Ragnar Klavan to see out the game. However, Klopp’s faith in the players and their faith in him see both parties constantly giving more for each other and the results are truly beautiful.
At full time Klopp and his players celebrated with the fans and skipper Jordan Henderson even held up a Sean Cox banner in support of the injured Liverpool supporter. The celebrations continued long into the night and the Liverpool fans were also treated to an appearance from Jurgen Klopp 40 mins after he had disappeared into the tunnel of the Stadio Olimpico
Liverpool now face a well-oiled and experienced Real Madrid side and it may seem a one sided affair on paper. However, this Liverpool side is certainly a wild card as their performances in Europe have shown this season. Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and his compatriots must surely be stumped as to what they can expect in the final. As for Liverpool fans, May 26th is now the most important date to look forward to.
Allez Allez Allez!!!
~ Kaustubh Deshpande
3rd May, 2018