Roma arrived at the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday evening fully confident of building on a first leg 1-1 draw to defeat FC Porto in the Champions League qualifying play-off.
Victory would assure the Giallorossi of their place in the group stages of Europe’s showpiece competition for the third consecutive season, in what is hoped to be a positive year for the club.
Porto were not to be underestimated, but they are not the force they were so recently, having finished a distant third in the Portuguese Liga Nos last season. Meanwhile, Roma could count on the fact that they held an away goal from the first leg and were facing a team missing star forwards Yacine Brahimi and Vincent Aboubakar.
Luciano Spalletti’s Roma side were favourites to progress and surely they would not squander such a glorious chance?
Those who had tipped the capital club to be in Thursday’s group stage draw had not banked on one thing; Roma’s almost unique ability to capitulate on the European stage.
A masterclass in how not to perform in a crucial play-off match followed, as the Lupi fell to a 3-0 defeat and finished the game with nine men.
Going behind early on to a Felipe Augusto header, brought about by some sloppy marking, Roma’s hopes of victory were soon put to bed by reckless tackles from captain Daniele De Rossi and Emerson Palmieri, leaving them to play the final 40 minutes two men down.
Porto struck two late goals, both of which exposed goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny at his mistake-ridden worst, to cement their place in the group stage. The Arsenal loanee must be fearing for his place with Alisson waiting in the wings, particularly after the Brazilian performed admirably in the first leg.
The rush of blood to the head of De Rossi in particular is nothing new, whilst Emerson has been something of a liability throughout his time at the club. However, with the exceptions of the impressive midfield duo of Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan, the squad let Spalletti down.
Roma have a history of falling apart when the stakes are high, and the defeat to Porto can now be added to the club’s list of embarrassments in European competition. Thrashings at the hands of Manchester United, Bayern Munich, and Barcelona continue to haunt the Giallorossi, but this loss was perhaps the most costly of all.
Failure to qualify could have much wider reaching implications, with much of their transfer policy hinging on the prize money awarded for being involved in the Champions League.
It remains to be seen whether this catastrophic performance will cost the club in their pursuit of the likes of Borja Valero of Fiorentina, or Monaco star Joao Moutinho.
There appears to be an underlying issue in Roma’s psyche, with the scars of past humiliations coming back to haunt them.
This comes despite Spalletti’s clear warning prior to kick off, that “anyone afraid to face Porto doesn’t deserve to play for this club.” Judging by the performance on Tuesday, Giallorossi fans can expect an almost entirely new team.
But perhaps the problem is Serie A in general. Indeed, since 2010, AC Milan are the only Italian team to make it through the Champions League qualifying play-offs, with Sampdoria, Udinese, Napoli and Lazio all joining Roma as sides that have fallen at the final hurdle.
However, whilst the Italian top flight continues to be let down by it’s teams’ failures to make it through qualifying, Roma themselves must shake off their fragility if they are to be anything other than also-rans and perennial disappointments.