Roma 1-0 Leicester (2-1 agg): Tammy Abraham’s towering header knocks Foxes out of the Europa Conference League as Serie A side set up final showdown against Feyenoord
If there is to be any consolation for Leicester City supporters at missing out on a first European final, they may be happy to learn that at least Claudio Ranieri is happy.
The Foxes’ title-winning manager is a lifelong Roma fan and admitted this week that despite his glorious history with Leicester, he would be cheering on Jose Mourinho’s team here.
The Italian’s wish was granted, as Tammy Abraham’s early goal was enough to give Mourinho his first appearance in a major European Final for five years. After last week’s 1-1 draw at the King Power Stadium, Roma will face Feyenoord in Tirana, Albania later in May to win the first edition of the Europa Conference League.
Tammy Abraham celebrates after giving Roma the lead in their Europa Conference League tie
The England international rose the highest to score a header against Leicester on 11 minutes
Abraham runs over to celebrate with the ecstatic Roma fans as his team-mates quickly join him
Leicester are currently 11th in the Premier League, so losing narrowly over two legs to the fifth-best team in Serie A is no disgrace. Yet after scrambling through tough ties against Rennes and PSV Eindhoven to reach this stage, Brendan Rodgers and his players will be disappointed they couldn’t threaten more.
Rui Patricio did not have a serious save to make – he was not forced to intervene until the 79th minute – and while Leicester believed they should have had an early penalty, they have the players to test Mourinho’s men, their frustrations with referee Srdjan Jovanovic notwithstanding.
With Jamie Vardy at his sharpest, things would surely have been different. Instead, Abraham did everything Vardy usually does – hassling defenders, spinning into space at speed and combining with his fellow attackers. Brought to the Italian capital last season from Chelsea, Abraham is one of the signings of the season in European football and it was fitting that he should strike the decisive blow.
The atmosphere was building with more than two hours still to go before kick-off, with pyrotechnic displays and singing outside the ground.
The 3,500 Leicester fans who had made the trip were also making themselves heard, despite the whistles from the home contingent whenever they broke into a chant.
Leicester chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha had travelled to the Italian capital and received a joyous reception from the Foxes supporters when he walked to applaud them.
This was Leicester’s second match on Italian soil this season after the defeat at Napoli that knocked them out of the Europa League and into this competition. They were attempting to end an intimidating record: Roma began the night unbeaten in 18 European home games on this ground, and had lost only one of their previous 28.
There was always the potential for flashpoints in the stands, and with half an hour still to go before kick-off, Roma fans started to launch flares into the Leicester section, prompting a PA announcement ordering them in vain to stop. As the sides entered the pitch from the underground changing rooms, the hardcore fans in the Curva Sud unveiled a banner that read ‘Everyone in Britain dreaded the name of the Romans.’
The banner had barely been rolled away when Leicester demanded a penalty as Wesley Fofana was grabbed around the waist by Chris Smalling at a corner. Even though VAR was in use for this match, the former Manchester United defender was not penalised.
In the eighth minute, Leicester had two clear warnings of Roma’s threat when Kasper Schmeichel scrambled Lorenzo Pellegrini’s free-kick behind and Smalling headed the corner over. Sadly for the Foxes, they did not heed them.
After another Pellegrini strike had brought a corner, the Roma captain’s delivery was perfect for Abraham to head past Schmeichel from close range in the 11th minute. With such a height advantage over his marker Ricardo Pereira, the Englishman’s 27th goal of the campaign was also one of his easiest.
Pellegrini continued to combine well with Roma’s impressive left wing-back Nicola Zalewski, this time for an angled volley that once more called Schmeichel into action. Leicester were struggling to hurt Roma and nearly conceded a second when Abraham charged forward and fed Nicolo Zaniolo, who chose to shoot rather than play the return pass that would have given Abraham a tap-in.
Leicester’s wide men Ademola Lookman and Harvey Barnes had been ineffective before the break and it was no surprise to see both taken off before the second period started. Daniel Amartey and Kelechi Iheanacho were introduced as Rodgers switched to a three-man defence and paired Iheanacho with Jamie Vardy, essentially matching Mourinho’s 3-4-1-2.
Vardy was isolated in the first half and appeared rusty – no surprise for a player who has spent much of 2022 on the sidelines due to injury. In the early stages, Leicester competed better with this physical Roma side and began to offer some hope of a comeback, though there were still very little to worry Rui Patricio in the home goal.
When they won a corner on the right, Vardy pulled into space to meet James Maddison’s low delivery only to see his shot blocked by the head of Abraham. Ranieri was applauded by the entire stadium when he appeared on the big screen midway through the second half. Sadly for Leicester, only one of his former clubs still have a shot at glory this season.
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