Nicolo Zaniolo’s first-half strike was enough to secure a narrow victory for Roma at Feyenoord’s expense in the first ever Europa Conference League final in the Albanian capital Tirana on Wednesday night.
Both sides looked nervous early on with the opening exchanges reminiscent of a playground match, although the hard-looking playing surface did not help matters. Feyenoord enjoyed the vast majority of the possession in a first half of very few chances, but it was Roma who took the advantage out of nothing.
Just after the half-hour mark, Zaniolo showed wonderful control to bring down Gianluca Mancini’s pinpoint diagonal pass from deep and dinked an excellent finish over the onrushing goalkeeper with the outside of his left boot.
Feyenoord’s only effort of note in the first period came when Orkun Kokcu had a pop from range that seemed to catch Rui Patricio by surprise, but no-one was on hand to bury the rebound.
The complexion of the match changed as soon as play resumed, with Feyenoord finally imposing themselves and striking the woodwork twice in the space of three minutes.
First, Mancini inadvertently diverted a low cross onto his own post and Guus Til’s effort from the rebound was pushed wide by Patricio. The former Wolves stopper then produced a flying save to tip Tyrell Malacia’s vicious drive onto the post with just five minutes of the second half played.
There was a huge flashpoint at the other end shortly afterwards. The Feyenoord backline misjudged a bouncing ball and Tammy Abraham found himself through on goal before being hauled back by Marcos Senesi. However, he was made to pay for staying on his feet as the referee and then the VAR somehow failed to punish the centre-back with the red card he deserved.
After Feyenoord’s onslaught had finally waned, Roma had the better chances to double their lead. Substitute Jordan Veretout saw a deflected drive well saved before turning creator for Lorenzo Pellegrini, but his firm strike was well saved by Justin Bijlow.
The Dutch side’s clearest opening came in stoppage time, but Bryan Linssen couldn’t get a touch on Cyriel Dessers’ flick-on.
Jose Mourinho’s Roma are the inaugural Europa Conference League winners. Here’s how the players rated…
GK: Rui Patricio – 7/10 – Spilled Kokcu’s drive but no-one was on hand to punish him. Made two fine saves early in the second period.
CB: Gianluca Mancini – 7/10 – Made a big interception midway through the first half. Excellent long pass to assist the opener. Lucky not to score an own goal as he hit his own post.
CB: Chris Smalling – 8/10 – Stuck very tightly to Dessers and did well to wind him up. Made a hugely important block. Showed all his experience.
CB: Roger Ibanez – 7/10 – Not afraid to step into the midfield. Incredible recovery tackle on Dessers but the striker handled anyway.
RWB: Rick Karsdorp – 5/10 – More of a defensive job than usual for the wing-back but perfectly competent.
CM: Henrikh Mkhitaryan – N/A – Forced off on his comeback from injury after just a quarter of an hour.
CM: Bryan Cristante – 7/10 – Always seemed to be there to mop up and launch attacks for the Giallorossi. A cool head.
LWB: Nicola Zalewski – 5/10 – Worked hard up and down the left flank, although he had to focus on his defensive work. Subbed.
RF: Nicolo Zaniolo – 7/10 – As quiet as the other attackers on the field before controlling Mancini’s pass wonderfully and producing a cool finish in the box.
LF: Lorenzo Pellegrini – 6/10 – Offered a sprinkling of class amid the chaos around him, but picked up a needless booking.
ST: Tammy Abraham – 6/10 – Ran hard but the match probably didn’t go as he’d hoped, other than the result. Would have been through if not for Senesi’s obvious foul.
SUB: Sergio Oliveira (17′ for Mkhitaryan) – 610 – Neat and tidy without doing anything outrageous.
SUB: Jordan Veretout (67′ for Zaniolo) – 6/10 – Made some nice passes and forced a good save.
SUB: Leonardo Spinazzola (67′ for Zalewski) – 6/10 – Adventurous as ever despite just recovering from a serious injury.
SUB: Mathias Vina (89′ for Karsdorp) – N/A
SUB: Eldor Shomurodov (89′ for Abraham) – N/A
GK: Justin Bijlow – 5/10 – Beaten by Zaniolo’s clever finish. Good save from Veretout’s deflected effort and from Pellegrini.
RB: Lutsharel Geertruida – 6/10 – Did well to get forward and support the attack at every opportunity.
CB: Gernot Trauner – 2/10 – Booked for a cynical takedown on Abraham as Roma broke. Caught under Mancini’s long pass for the opener.
CB: Marcos Senesi – 6/10 – Given a physical battle by Abraham all night, and somehow escaped a clear red card for blatantly hauling the England man back when he was running through on goal. Recovered and defended well.
LB: Tyrell Malacia – 6/10 – One outside-of-the-boot delivery caused issues. Saw a thumping drive tipped onto the woodwork. Some pinpoint crosses.
CM: Guus Til – 5/10 – Grew in influence and saw a bouncing effort pushed wide during the second-half onslaught. Subbed on the hour.
CM: Fredrik Aursnes – 6/10 – Got on the ball and passed smoothly. Almost got an assist with a smart back-heel to Malacia.
CM: Orkun Kokcu – 6/10 – Saw plenty of the ball without influencing things much. Tested Patricio with a powerful drive.
RW: Reiss Nelson – 3/10 – Among many players who looked nervous and struggled to make any impact before being subbed.
ST: Cyriel Dessers – 3/10 – The competition’s top scorer struggled to get involved and became visibly frustrated. Should have had a late assist.
LW: Luis Sinisterra – 4/10 – Another who didn’t have the desired impact, despite getting into some good positions.
SUB: Jens Toornstra (60′ for Til) – 5/10 – Did little of note.
SUB: Marcus Holmgren Pedersen (74′ for Trauner) – 5/10
SUB: Byran Linssen (74′ for Nelson) – 5/10 – Has the chance to level at the death, but somehow couldn’t make contact with the ball.
SUB: Patrik Walemark (88′ for Malacia) – N/A
SUB: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (88′ for Kokcu) – N/A