Jose Mourinho’s Roma remain on track for a second European trophy in two seasons after a goalless draw at Bayer Leverkusen sent them through to the UEFA Europa League final 1-0 on aggregate on Thursday.
The Europa Conference League holders created little in attack but defended doggedly, as the increasingly frustrated home side peppered their goal in search of an equaliser.
The visitors held on through eight minutes of added time and will face six-time winners Sevilla in the final in Budapest on 31 May after the Spanish side overcame Juventus in extra time in the other semi-final.
Mourinho told Sky Sport “today there is great joy after reaching another Europa League final”.
Toasting his “unbelievable team”, Mourinho said “I don’t know if I can ask for more but these guys deserve something special.”
Roma captain Lorenzo Pellegrini told Sky Sport Italia, “There are many things which Roma can and must improve, but as a true group, as a family, we have succeeded in this small feat.”
Leverkusen manager Xabi Alonso said “I’m not going to cry”, telling the post-match press conference his side had “many reasons to be optimistic”.
“I am happy, pleased and proud of the players and the way they tried until the end. We must continue, with our heads up and continue.
Leverkusen midfielder Kerem Demirbay accused Mourinho of using “ugly” defensive tactics.
“It’s a shame that in a semi-final at such a high level that this type of play can be rewarded,” he told Germany’s RTL. “They made things very ugly at the end.”
Roma hold on
Roma came into the game with a narrow 1-0 lead, thanks to a second-half goal from Rome-born midfielder Edoardo Bove in the first leg.
Mourinho has stayed true to the defensive tactics for which he is known during this Europa League campaign – Roma conceded just three goals in eight knockout games on the way to the final.
Leverkusen started the game the brighter team, with 20-year-old creator Florian Wirtz pulling the strings in midfield.
Wirtz linked with France international forward Moussa Diaby after 12 minutes and the former Paris Saint-Germain youth product rattled the crossbar.
The same combination linked again ten minutes later, Diaby heading just wide.
Iran striker Sardar Azmoun was pulled down on the counter-attack on the edge of the box with the first-half winding down but the referee waved the incident away despite the protests of the home players.
Alonso brought on French winger Amine Adli and the French winger almost created the equaliser, finding Azmoun in the box but the Iranian dragged his shot just wide.
With the clock winding down, the home fans became increasingly incensed with the visitors’ stalling tactics, resulting in eight minutes of added time.
As the full-time whistle went, an elated Mourinho went directly to the elated visiting fans.
For Roma, who are six points off fourth spot in Serie A with three games to play, the victory not only means a shot at a maiden Europa League title, but also a chance at making next year’s Champions League.
Despite the elimination, Leverkusen’s short-term future looks bright, with Alonso, who has lifted Leverkusen from the relegation spots to a European semi-final since taking over late last year, declaring he would be at the BayArena next season.