Roma gets second chance in Europa League, decider between Spezia and Hellas Verona
AS Roma will have another chance to win the Europa League next year. Four days after the lost final against Sevilla, Roma pulled out all the stops once again in Serie A to bring Spezia to its knees.
It succeeded, thanks to an easily given penalty kick in the closing stages: 2-1. Spezia, with Jeroen Zoet unexpectedly under the crossbar, awaits a decider next week with Hellas Verona for survival.
The Verona club lost 3-1 at AC Milan, in a game that will go down in history mainly because of the emotional farewell to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
At Roma, Jose Mourinho was not on the bench, but his influence was certainly no less visible in the game. The Portuguese coach was suspended; not because of his misconduct during and after the lost Europa League final, but because of the five yellow cards he accumulated in Serie A.
The biggest surprise beforehand was Spezia coach Leonardo Semplice’s choice of Zoet under the crossbar. The former Dutch national was allowed only five appearances in Serie A this season – partly due to a serious knee injury – but was actually given a chance again in Rome.
The Antwerp-born Svilar is in fact the son of Antwerp icon Ratko Svilar, who stood under the crossbar at the Bosuil for fifteen years (1980-1995).
Spezia in the lead
After six minutes, Svilar was the first to have to take the ball out of the net after a crisp header from Spezia defender Dimitrios Nikolaou. For the 24-year-old Greek, it was only his first goal at the highest level in 131 league games with Olympiakos, Empoli and the last two seasons Spezia.
At Roma’s 1-1, Zoet did not look good. He miscalculated – as did everyone else for that matter – on a Nicola Zalewski cross, which disappeared into the goal at the far post.
The second half showed just how much tension there was among both teams. Roma felt aggrieved by referee Fabio Maresca, when Paulo Dybala was tackled in the sixteen by Arek Reca. In particular, Gianluca Mancini turned to the referee, bellowing and ranting, but he ruled that the Spezia player played the ball.
Things really got out of hand after that, when Dybala got into a fight with Kelvin Amian. In the messy closing stages, substitute Tammy Abraham injured his knee, leaving Georginio Wijnaldum to probably play his last minutes for the Romans. The mercenary will in principle return to Paris Saint-Germain.
Because of the standings on the other fields (Juventus led 1-0 against Udinese and Hellas Verona had actually tied 1-1 against AC Milan), the final minutes remained nail-biting.
So Roma were still able to distinguish themselves with some clever reflexes. But that proved worth little when Roma still got a very cheap staff kick when Stephan El Shaarawy dropped between two defenders.
Zoet dived into the right corner, but just couldn’t turn Dybala’s effort. The Argentine thus shot Roma to sixth place after all, good for another chance in the Europa League. Juventus, which won 1-0 at Udinese, finished seventh and will have to make do with the Conference League.
For Zoets Spezia, the season is not over yet. Because rival Hellas Verona still lost 3-1 to Milan, both teams end the season with 31 points.
And that means Spezia and Verona will decide next week in a decider who will descend to Serie B with Sampdoria and Cremonese.
Napoli bid farewell to coach Spalletti with trophy
Napoli celebrated their third scudetto weeks ago, but only got to raise the trophy in the air on the final day after the 2-0 win over Sampdoria.
Victor Osimhen opened the scoring from a penalty kick after halftime, bringing his season total to 26 goals and thus becoming Serie A’s top scorer. He is one of four players, who produced a hat-trick this season. One player even managed it twice: Teun Koopmeiners scored three times for Atalanta against Torino (3-1) and against Monza (5-2).
For now, it was also the last game of the coach who brought success back to Naples, Luciano Spalletti. The 64-year-old practice master has announced a year’s rest.