ROME, Italy, Dec 6 – 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 was 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 Azeris Qarabag 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 Atletico 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 Qarabag, beating Chelsea 3-0 in Rome, and coming away with a 3-3 draw from London, with their only loss 2-0 to Atletico 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 Atletico. 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 Dzeko, Stephan El Shaarawy and Kostas Manola’s efforts with Bosnian goalkeeper Ibrahim Sehic 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 Dzeko rebound turned the tide with the Romans dominating the remainder of the game although Qarabag came very close to an equaliser on 83 minutes with Michel’s header stopped by Alisson.
At the final whistle the players waited for the end of Chelsea-Atletico along with their fans at the Stadio Olympico with the result greeted with joy.
For their new 55,000-seater Stadio della Roma stadium their fans will have to wait until at least 2020, but the Champions League continues in February.