Between new stadium and Champions League, Roma’s on the rise
ROME (AP) — Rarely has Roma achieved so much in a single day.
Hours after gaining approval to build a long-delayed new stadium, the Giallorossi won their Champions League group for the first time in nearly a decade.
Making matters even sweeter was that Roma was expected to struggle to reach the knockout stages. Instead, the team qualified for the last 16 ahead of Premier League champion Chelsea and Atletico Madrid — a semifinalist or finalist in three of the past four seasons.
“Winning the group should be a great satisfaction but nothing more, because otherwise we’ll treat these situations as exceptional whereas we should be working toward making them the norm,” Roma general director Mauro Baldissoni said Wednesday.
Memories of Roma getting routed 7-1 by both Manchester United and Bayern Munich over the past 10 years are fading under first-year coach Eusebio Di Francesco, a player on the Roma squad that won Serie A in 2001.
“We shouldn’t just settle for what we’ve already done,” Di Francesco said after a 1-0 win over Qarabag. “Aim to win the Champions League? Why not?
“We’ve gone through and are proud of this, but so often here people settle for less. But why should we?” Di Francesco added. “We should be ambitious. We suffered but won today and that is already a sign of a great team.”
Diego Perotti scored the only goal against the Azerbaijani club early in the second half but Roma had to wait until the other group match between Chelsea and Atletico ended 1-1 to be assured of winning the group.
The match in England still had a couple of more minutes to go after the final whistle in Rome. All of the Roma squad waited in front of their fans and, as soon as the big screen showed it was finished, there were huge cheers from players and supporters.
Roma’s American president, James Pallotta, already had reason to celebrate an hour before the match began.
That was when the four main governing bodies involved in the decision approved the club’s plans to build Stadio della Roma.
“I’m delighted because I know what this decision could mean for Rome itself, for our club’s future and for our fans — we want to give them the home they deserve,” Pallotta said.
Pallotta first presented the stadium plan in March 2014 alongside then-mayor Ignazio Marino, saying that it would be ready for the 2016-17 season. But the massive project — due to include a training center, entertainment complex, three office towers and extensive transportation works — had been delayed by environmental concerns and criticism over public funding.
The project’s cost was originally valued at 1.6 billion euros (nearly $2 billion), including more than 200 million euros in public financing. Earlier this year, the office towers were cut from the project to gain approval from current mayor Virginia Raggi.
Then last month, the government made a push for approval in the wake of Italy’s failure to qualify for the World Cup.
Finally, the city, the greater municipal area, the Lazio region and the government gave the key go-ahead on Tuesday.
“The green light confirms that our country is able to attract investments,” Sports Minister Luca Lotti said.
Still, with more minor bureaucratic steps to be passed, construction likely won’t begin until after this season.
The proposed stadium site in Tor di Valle is about halfway between downtown and Leonardo Da Vinci Airport. With a design inspired by the Colosseum, the stadium is slated to seat 52,500 and be expandable to 60,000 for major matches.
Roma currently shares the 72,000-seat Stadio Olimpico with city rival Lazio but the venue — which has a running track and bad sightlines — is outdated.
Meanwhile, Roma will look ahead to Monday’s draw for the second round of the Champions League, where it could be pitted against 12-time champion Real Madrid or five-time winner Bayern — both of which finished second in their groups.
Roma hasn’t reached the quarterfinals since 2007-08 and its best result in the competition was losing the 1984 final to Liverpool in a penalty shooutout in its own stadium.
“When you become one of the best 16 clubs in Europe, you shouldn’t have any fear,” Di Francesco said. “If we get Bayern or Real Madrid we’ll take them — they clearly must have had some trouble getting through if they came second.
“If I said otherwise it would just contradict what I’ve already said,” Di Francesco added. “We are one of Europe’s top 16 clubs now.”
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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf