For a few tense moments, it looked as if AS Roma‘s Europa League hopes had been dealt another bitter blow by a stunning goal, but VAR came to their rescue in a 2-1 win over HJK in Helsinki on Thursday.
The Giallorossi went into the Matchday 5 game at the Bolt Arena knowing that failure to get any points would lead to the ignominy of an early exit, but in reality only a victory would do, and they just about scraped that to set up a winner-takes-all clash against Ludogorets Razgrad next week.
Roma had led through Tammy Abraham‘s bullet header from a freekick, only for ex-Chievo Verona midfielder Peparim Hetemaj to equalise.
Just as an own goal had put the Italian club back in the driving seat, their victory appeared to have been snatched from them in style as David Browne blasted in from range to find the top corner, only for the goal to be chalked off for a foul in the build up.
The Lupi hung on, and have the chance to progress with victory next week.
Mixed group performances a concern
Having lifted the inaugural Europa Conference League last season in Jose Mourinho‘s first term, expectations have been high in the Italian capital and Roma were amongst the early favourites to challenge for another European trophy this year.
Yet, it has been a campaign to forget so far after a late defeat against Ludogorets was followed up by an even later defeat to Real Betis, either side of a 3-0 win over HJK at home.
The Lupi then came back to secure a 1-1 draw against Group C winners Betis in Spain prior to their victory in Finland to keep their campaign alive, but Mourinho‘s men have only impressed in fits and starts, with sustained class a rarity in their European performances.
Roma have enjoyed some lengthy and impressive European campaigns in recent years, from a Champions League semi-final in 2018 to last season’s title, following a Europa League semi-final spot in 2021.
They remain the overwhelming favourites to get the win they’ll need against Ludogorets, but a series of disjointed performances mean nothing can be taken for granted against their Bulgarian opponents next week.
Abraham ends goal drought
Much of Roma’s European success last season was thanks to the prolific form of striker Abraham, as the England international struck nine times in continental competition to lead the Lupi to the Europa Conference League.
The former Chelsea man has had much less luck in front of goal this season and only had two goals to his name in all competitions before kick-off, but his pinpoint header will have given him confidence to find his form once more.
With a fully fit and firing Abraham spearheading an attack that is due to welcome Paulo Dybala back, Roma could well be on course for success this season.