‘ROMA HAVE RISEN FROM THEIR RUINS’ were the immortal words of commentator Peter Drury as Kostas Manolas flicked in Roma’s third goal against Barcelona, sending the Stadio Olimpico wild.
Drury follows up with trademark dramatic verve, ‘THIS WAS NOT MEANT TO HAPPEN, THIS COULD NOT HAPPEN, THIS IS HAPPENING!’ and he was right.
After the first leg encounter between the two sides, the Catalan side were 4-1 up and comfortably in the ascendency before a meltdown of historic proportions allowed Roma into the semi-finals at their expense. For Barcelona, April 10th 2018 serves as a reminder of the lowest point in their recent European history.
Their most recent high was back in May 2015. Neymar had just scored deep into stoppage time to help seal the 5th Champions League title for the Catalan giants at the expense of Juventus.
For Barcelona to have beaten that particular Juventus side 3-1, onlookers saw it as a portent of things to come. The team was in good hands; under the tutelage of Luis Enrique and the swashbuckling style of Luis Suarez, Neymar and of course, Lionel Messi, the 2015 Champions League victory should have signalled the beginning of an era of European dominance.
Instead, that night in Berlin precipitated an inexorable decline. They say hindsight is 20:20 – yet for Barcelona, the reason for their current toils in the Champions League of late is hard to see.
There were warning signs, sure; They limped out of their title defence the following year, beaten comprehensively by Atletico Madrid. The 2017 campaign may have seen the incredible 6-1 comeback to PSG, but onlookers are quick to forget there was a 4-0 humiliation at the Parc des Princes.
The fall in Rome in 2018 was followed by the even greater collapse last year at the hands of Liverpool, where the English side was able to overturn a 3-0 first-leg deficit and win 4-3 in 90 historical minutes.
Now in 2020, five years on from their Champions League triumph, Barcelona have all but lost their Champions League winners mentality. Naturally, there are various mitigating factors but there can be little doubt that the defeat inflicted by Roma dealt a psychological wound which has yet to be properly addressed
Going into the game against Roma, supporters would argue that they’d lost key players from the 2015 vintage. Xavi Hernandez; one of the finest players of a generation moved to Qatar two seasons prior. Dani Alves and Javier Mascherano moved to Juventus and China respectively and of course, 2017 saw Neymar move to PSG for world record money.
They could even argue that their head coach at the time, Ernesto Valverde was unable to fine-tune this squad - with all it’s new, shiny and expensive parts.
But this was 2018 and this was still ‘Barcelona’. They travelled to Rome unbeaten in La Liga and they still had Iniesta, Pique, Busquets, Jordi Alba, Rakitic, Suarez and Lionel Messi. With one foot already in the semi-final, they should not have lost to Roma, a side who in Serie A, finished 18 points behind winners Juventus in 3rd place.
Yet Roma played the quarter-final tie out with such a frenzy, one would have been permitted for thinking that they were in fact the five-times Champions of Europe.
Led by an inspired Edin Dzeko at the front, the Bosnian was all sinew and muscle, shrugging off Gerard Pique time and again to net Roma’s first and win the penalty which Daniele De Rossi coolly despatched. At 58’ on the clock, there was time for Barcelona to score the precious away goal they needed, but time’s pendulum swung in favour of the Giallorossi.
When Cengiz Under whipped in his corner in the 82’, Kostas Manolas (who conceded an away goal in the first leg) ran to the near post and headed in history.
The scenes that followed the goal and the full-time celebrations are what makes the game of football so special to fans. After the match, Edin Dzeko remarked: "Nobody believed in us before the game - they gave us a 5% chance of winning - but against such a team like Barcelona, you expect that after losing the first game 4-1.”
By overturning the deficit, Roma became the third side to have overturned a 3+ goal deficit in Champions League knockout history, there has been another since involving Barcelona.
Match commentator Peter Drury is often asked whether he believed the upset could have happened and whether his now-famous words, were prepared. "As a commentator, you’ve got to understand that you’re only as good as you are lucky,” he says in typically self-effacing fashion, “All of these great moments have absolutely nothing to do with me…I had people asking me whether I had prepared for that moment. I mean, how could I have written that down? How could I have anticipated that?”
In truth and even in hindsight, few can argue.