ROME: Eusebio Di Francesco hailed his Roma side for proving the doubters wrong after the Serie A runners-up qualified for the Champions League last 16 top of their group ahead of Chelsea on Tuesday.
There were double celebrations for Di Francesco’s side on the night after it was announced just before kick-off that the construction of their new stadium had been given the green light.
“It’s satisfying because nobody believed we could qualify at all, they assumed we’d be eliminated, but we worked hard, proved ourselves, and won the group,” said Di Francesco who took over this season.
Roma edged out Qarabağ 1-0 to top Group C, with Diego Perotti’s second-half header ensuring they finished ahead of Chelsea, who were held 1-1 by Atlético Madrid in London, with the Spaniards, finalists in 2014 and 2016, eliminated.
Roma’s path to top spot followed a solid campaign which included maximum points against Qarabağ, beating Chelsea 3-0 in Rome, and coming away with a 3-3 draw from London, with their only loss a 2-0 to Atlético Madrid in Spain.
“It was a great victory, a difficult one, especially as I have no Champions League experience,” continued Di Francesco, whose side will now be seeded for Friday’s draw, where they could face teams including Real Madrid and Bayern Munich as they bid for a first quarter-final appearance in 10 years.
“We’re through and it’s with a great sense of pride. But in Italy, we have the tendency to sit back. We have to change that mentality and not to be satisfied with what we have. We’re first ahead of Chelsea and Atlético. We won by suffering, it’s a sign of great mental strength.
“We are among the best 16 teams in Europe and we have to think like a big team, that means not being afraid of anyone. Of course, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich that could be a little more difficult than other rivals.”
In the first half, Roma failed to find a way through despite Edin Džeko, Stephan El Shaarawy, and Kostas Manolas’ efforts, with Bosnian goalkeeper Ibrahim Šehić doing well to keep out a Radja Nainggolan strike and an Aleksandar Kolarov follow-up just before the break.
But Perotti’s goal on 53 minutes after a Džeko rebound turned the tide with the Romans dominating the remainder of the game, although Qarabağ came very close to an equalizer on 83 minutes with Michel’s header stopped by Alisson.
At the final whistle, the players, along with their fans at the Stadio Olimpico, waited for the end of the Chelsea-Atlético game. The result was greeted with joy.