ROME – Edin Dzeko surprised a lot of people when he turned down a lucrative offer from Premier League champion Chelsea in January to stay with Roma.
Pledging his allegiance for Roma then, Dzeko declared that he was determined to accomplish something important with the Italian club.
Consider his desire realized.
Dzeko’s sheer will and brute force were the primary reasons behind Roma’s shocking elimination of Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinals. The Bosnia and Herzegovina striker scored two goals and drew a penalty to set up another over the two legs as Roma clawed back from a three-goal deficit to advance to the semifinals.
“I stayed with Roma to experience matches like these. I’m happy to be with Roma and I think the club should be, too,” Dzeko said after Roma’s 3-0 win Tuesday overturned a 4-1 first-leg defeat.
“I turned down a lot of money by not going to Chelsea but that’s not what I’m interested in. If we play like this we can play with anyone. I’ve never seen Barcelona in so much difficulty.”
Dzeko should know. He was on the Manchester City team that was eliminated by Barcelona in the last 16 in both 2014 and 2015.
Roma suffocated Barcelona with high pressure, prompting the Catalan club to make a series of errant passes and turnovers. Barcelona had no answer for the aerial abilities of Dzeko and fellow forward Patrik Schick, who was the revelation of the night.
Sparingly used previously this season due to a series of injuries, the 22-year-old Czech Republic striker had been set to join Juventus during the offseason but the deal collapsed because of a reported heart problem.
So Roma picked him up instead from Sampdoria, where Schick scored 11 Serie A goals last season.
Cengiz Under, another young attacking player, scored six goals for Roma in February and March and returned from injury by coming off the bench in the second leg.
The 20-year-old Turkey winger’s corner set up the header from Kostas Manolas that provided Roma’s third goal.
That came moments before Stephan El Shaarawy, another speedy and talented winger, was denied from close range.
In all, Roma is developing a wealth of options in attack that combine velocity and strength, and Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco was hailed for his 3-4-1-2 formation.
“We had never tried it before but over just three days he got it into our heads,” said Roma captain Daniele De Rossi, who converted a penalty for Roma’s second goal. “After the first leg we saw that the gap between us and them wasn’t really all that large.”
Own-goals from De Rossi and Manolas handed Barcelona a 2-0 lead last week but Dzeko’s late consolation goal in that match proved decisive when Roma advanced on away goals.
Dzeko also scored the key goal when Roma eliminated Shakhtar Donetsk in the last 16. He has six goals in all in this season’s competition.
“The best is yet to come. The semifinal will be even greater,” Dzeko said.
“But of course, tonight is unforgettable,” Dzeko added. “I don’t have an adjective to describe it. Let’s just say it was a crazy match – incredible. Nobody believed in us.”
Roma fans celebrated throughout the night, waving flags and driving scooters around the central Piazza Venezia.
“Imperiali!” – Imperials – said the headline in Wednesday’s Gazzetta dello Sport.
French sports daily L’Equipe labeled it a “Romantada” – a play on the Spanish word “remuntada,” which translates as comeback.
It’s the first time that Roma has reached the last four since it lost the 1984 final to Liverpool on penalties in its own stadium.
The semifinal draw is scheduled for Friday and so far the only other club which has advanced is Liverpool, which is spearheaded by former Roma striker Mohamed Salah.
While Roma keeps on surprising in the Champions League – see its 3-0 domination of Chelsea in the group stage – the Giallorossi have struggled in Serie A. Roma is fourth in the Italian league, a distant 21 points behind leader Juventus and level on points with Lazio entering Sunday’s Rome derby.
“Honestly I don’t know why we can’t transfer the mentality we have in the Champions League to Serie A,” said Dzeko, who led Serie A with 29 goals last season.
Still, this season already marks a turning point for Roma’s American ownership team led by Boston executive James Pallotta.
Roma has received preliminary approval to build a long-delayed new stadium with a design inspired by the Colosseum. The Champions League success might help speed up the stadium process – especially if Roma reaches the final in Kiev.
“We can’t think like we’ve achieved a miracle,” De Rossi said. “We’ve got to keep playing and try to go all the way.”
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