STADIO OLIMPICO (Rome): Paulo Dybala came to AS Roma’s rescue with a 90th-minute penalty in a 2-1 win over Spezia, earning a top-six finish for the Lupi and condemning the visitors to a relegation playoff against Hellas Verona.
With Juventus beating Udinese, the Giallorossi were at risk of tumbling into the Europa Conference League spot of seventh until Dybala converted from 12 yards to ensure Jose Mourinho’s side would finish sixth.
It was a heartbreaking moment for the large travelling support from Spezia, who knew bettering Verona’s result in Milan would be enough to achieve survival and were minutes away from doing just that.
The Gialloblu’s 3-1 defeat at San Siro means that they finished level on 31 points with Spezia, and the two sides will now face a relegation playoff – a rule brought back this year – to decide who joins Sampdoria and Cremonese in Serie B next season.
All eyes on Mou
Mourinho has been at the centre of global media attention since the Budapest final after his abuse of referee Anthony Taylor earned him a charge from UEFA and widespread condemnation.
But the coach’s popularity hasn’t waned even slightly in Rome; his name was roared out by the Olimpico crowd and several banners were held up in support throughout the game, although the Portuguese wasn’t there to soak up the acclaim due to suspension.
His side went out in a new-look and more adventurous 4-2-3-1 formation, but they conceded early when a cross-shot from Mehdi Bourabia flew to the back post where Dimitrios Nikolaou was left unmarked to head home.
Roma mustered a response, Stephan El Shaarawy’s shot shaving the bar as they camped out in the visitors’ half, and they eventually drew level just before half-time when Nicola Zalewski’s cross flew through the box and into the far corner.
Twists and turns with huge consequences
At the break, both sides were in position to achieve their objectives – Roma were sixth and Spezia 17th.
But things changed quickly as the second half progressed. Juventus went in front against Udinese to send Roma down to seventh in the live table, while with 15 minutes to go news that Verona had equalised against Milan left both sides needing another goal.
A frantic and fraught conclusion ensued, with tempers flaring and both sets of players and staff frequently pouring out from the benches into the dugouts for confrontations.
Milan restored their advantage late on, meaning Spezia were safe again with a draw, but Roma still needed a goal to leapfrog Juve and found it when El Shaarawy was brought down by Kelvin Amian in the box.
The right-back was shown a second yellow card and Dybala cooly dispatched the penalty into the top corner to complete the comeback.