Liverpool reached the Champions League Final for the first time in over a decade after a dramatic Semi-Final aggregate victory over Roma in the Italian capital.
Even with losing the 2nd leg last night, Liverpool progressed despite weathering a few scares in the Stadio Olimpico, especially in the dying minutes.
A peaceful city
Off the pitch, despite the earlier warnings, it was mostly a peaceful day around the Roman city centre with Liverpool fans enjoying the various bars and squares, singing plenty of songs and generally making themselves known.
The fans heeded the warnings to get to the coaches early for the transfer to the ground and even then, a total of 3 turnstiles at the ground for around 5,000 fans was inadequate and created huge delays.
Inside the ground, the travelling reds got behind the team from start to finish, with an electric atmosphere inside the ground, with the home fans hoping for a miracle.
Nervous Liverpool hold the upper hand
Liverpool started nervously but a mistake by Radja Nainggolan was punished in devastating fashion by the reds. Roberto Firmino pushed forward and slid a wonderfully weighted pass into the path of Sadio Mane, who dispatched neatly past Alisson Becker in the Roma goal. Surely now Liverpool were going to Kiev for the final.
Roma recovered from that early set back and got back into the tie with a bit of fortune of the highest order. An attempted clearance from Dejan Lovren hit James Milner firmly in the face and rebounded past Loris Karius into the reds net.
It was an open game with both sides going at each other, so it was no surprise that more goals were to come. Mane was the pick of the Liverpool players, always a threat running at the Roma defence, aided by the impressive Andrew Robertson. It was an unusually quiet Mo Salah, the former Roma player, who was returning to the capital for the first time, that disappointed most. Maybe the standards he has set himself now, we expect him just to turn up and perform great things.
Roma prays for a miracle
In midfield, Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner dictated the pace of the game, passing round looking for those gaps to appear. It was an unlikely away goal by Wijnaldum, who never scores away, that put the tie firmly in the reds grasp. An attempted clearance by Edin Dzeko, pressured by Virgil van Dijk, skied into the air and Wijnaldum was the first to react and head past Alisson. Roma now needed an even bigger miracle.
Half time came and went, and the Roman’s stepped up a notch, with Stephen El Shaaraway and Djeko looking the biggest threats. El Shaarawy was giving Trent Alexander-Arnold a torrid time down Liverpool’s right, with the reds youngster getting little help around him.
El Shaarawy hit the post after a wicked deflection off Milner before Karius parried a shot into the path of Djeko, who finished delightfully to give Roma hope with time ticking away.
With little time left, Nainggolan hit a low shot that hit the post and nestled in the back of Karius’ net to put Roma in front on the night for the first time. The Olimpico erupted in noise yet again. Could there be one final flurry, with Roma needing two more to take it to extra time.
With time literally up, Ragnar Klavan, a late substitute, was judged to have handled the ball and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. It was never a penalty but Nainggolan put the penalty away. Liverpool just about kicked off before the referee shrilled on his whistle for the last time. Liverpool had made it, the final in Kiev was now a reality. It was really a crazy night. A night not for relaxing, though a night I felt we were always going to progress.
All roads lead to Kiev
It wasn’t a vintage performance but it was a performance full of characters. It was a performance, even though a loss on the night, that will forever remain in the hearts and minds of Liverpool supporters and players.
The away ended erupted in celebrations and they were soon joined by the players and staff in front of them. We always win in Rome. Maybe not this time but it was the best loss we could have had.
It’s been a journey from a small town in Germany (Hoffenheim), with a pressure two-legged qualifying match, all the way to the Ukrainian capital. Kiev and the challenge of Real Madrid awaits. It will be an aging Madrid side that will be hoping for one final hurrah versus an up and coming Liverpool side moulded by Jurgen Klopp’s passion and freedom. The scramble for flights, hotels and tickets has already began. Bring it on.