TIRANA: Nicolo Zaniolo won Roma their first ever major European trophy on Wednesday with the only goal in a 1-0 win over Feyenoord in the inaugural Europa Conference League final. Italy international Zaniolo struck with a well-taken finish in the 32nd minute to earn Roma their first trophy of any kind since 2008 and cap a successful first season for coach Jose Mourinho in Rome.
Mourinho was moved to tears by his fifth continental cup as a coach, the first for an Italian team since he led Inter Milan to the Champions League 12 years ago. “It was a real struggle but I’m really happy,” Zaniolo said to Sky. “It was my dream and now I’ve done it.”
Roma, Fairs Cup winners in 1961, rode their luck with Feyenoord having the lion’s share of the play and twice striking the woodwork in the second half. But they remained solid in the face of Dutch dominance and brought joy to one of Europe’s most passionate and success-starved fan bases. Over 50,000 fans packed the Stadio Olimpico in the Italian capital to watch their team make a little piece of history in Albania and poured onto the pitch once the trophy was secured.
Meanwhile the small corner of supporters allowed into Tirana’s National Stadium roared with delight once referee Istvan Kovacs blew his whistle to end their team’s trophy drought. “We know that after these amazing victories it’s always difficult to start again but a real team wins, celebrates and then gets going again,” said Rome-born captain Lorenzo Pellegrini.
For 1970 European champions Feyenoord it was their first ever defeat in a European final as well as being the first loss in the competition for Arne Slot’s team. Zaniolo broke the deadlock with the only real moment of magic in what was a tight, scrappy opening half. He expertly brought down Gianluca Mancini’s ball over the top that just escaped Gernot Trauner before flicking a finish past the onrushing Justin Bijlow.
The goal made Zaniolo the first Italian to score in a European final since Filippo Inzaghi in 2007 as well as a confirmed hero for Roma fans. Feyenoord had dominated the ball, creating nothing of interest, but that changed almost immediately after the restart. Trauner diverted a low cross off the post and seconds later Rui Patricio made his first real save of the match, the Portuguese reacting well to push Guus Til’s shot away.
And the 34-year-old was called into action again four minutes after the break, flinging himself to his left to just tip Tyrell Malacia’s rocket of a shot onto the woodwork. Almost straight after Tammy Abraham had his hands in the air in disbelief when he was pulled back by Marcos Senesi just as he was charging through on goal, but Feyenoord were clearly on top. The Dutch side continued to push but a spirited defensive display typical of Mourinho’s teams held them off and handed Roma a rare moment of glory. – AFP