Roma’s Europa Conference League final victory; Smalling shines as Mourinho creates history.


Mourinho, Jose. A winner of the Uefa Europa Conference League. How many other bosses can make the claim?

Of course, the answer is zero, because his Roma side defeated Feyenoord in the inaugural final of a competition that Uefa sanctioned in 2018 and began three years later.

Except for the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1961, this was Roma’s first major European title, whereas Mourinho has completed the set of what is possible on the continent, with a Conference League to go along with his two Champions Leagues and one Europa League.

It’s a new chapter to write for the guy who wants his “Special One” moniker to be a thing of the past, and with an eye on the future, Mourinho thinks this triumph will usher in a new era of trophies for Roma as well.

TIRANA, ALBANIA - MAY 25: Jose Mourinho, Head Coach of AS Roma reacts following their sides victory in the UEFA Conference League final match between AS Roma and Feyenoord at Arena Kombetare on May 25, 2022 in Tirana, Albania. (Photo by Tullio Puglia - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)
Jose Mourinho reacts following Roma’s victory (Photo: Getty)

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Meanwhile, the Europa Conference League will take some time to recover from the scorn it has received in the past.

The name doesn’t help it, but it’s appropriate for its third-tier position, and the trophy is 4kg lighter and 7.5cm smaller than Eintracht Frankfurt’s remarkably identical Europa League trophy from last week, just to let you know who’s better.

Though Uefa had excellent intentions when granting Albania its first-ever European final, the capital of Tirana was eventually left bursting with fans, many without tickets, who had travelled from both Rome and Rotterdam — 60 of whom were detained.

Player ratings

Roma: Rui Patricio 8, Mancini 7, Smalling 8, Ibanez 6, Karsdorp 7, Cristante 6, Mkhitaryan 5, Pellegrini 6, Zalewski 6, Zaniolo 7, Abraham 6. Subs: Oliveira 6, Veretout 6, Spinazzola 6.

Feyenoord: Bijlow 6, Geertruida 6, Trauner 5, Senes 6, Malacia 6, Aursnes 5, Orkun Kokcu 6, Til 6, Nelson 6, Dessers 5, Sinisterra 5. Subs: Toornstra 6, Pedersen 6, Linssen 6.

The big dangling carrot is at least a place in the Europa League next season for the winners. Huzzah! But alas, this was somewhat futile given Feyenoord and Roma had already qualified for Europe’s second-tier competition by way of their domestic finishes.

Nevertheless, there was still a budget Europa League trophy to be won, and Wikipedia pages waiting to be updated. Roma defender Gianluca Mancini admitted his side were labelling it the “cup of jokes” at the start of the campaign, but after playing 14 games to get there he was calling the final the most important game of his career.

The sight of two storied clubs at least boosted the occasion, but while flares and flags made for a raucous atmosphere, the final started slowly despite the best efforts of the supporters watching on, with just the one shot off target from Feyenoord come the midway point of the first half.

By the 32nd minute, however, Roma were ahead. A lofted ball slightly glanced the head of defender Gernot Trauner, but Nicolò Zaniolo was able to adjust quickly, chest the ball down, and deftly lift it over the onrushing Justin Bijlow in Feyenoord’s goal.

TIRANA, ALBANIA - MAY 25: Chris Smalling and Tammy Abraham of AS Roma celebrate following their sides victory in the UEFA Conference League final match between AS Roma and Feyenoord at Arena Kombetare on May 25, 2022 in Tirana, Albania. (Photo by Tullio Puglia - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)
Chris Smalling and Tammy Abraham celebrate (Photo: Getty)

Roma’s fans wildly celebrated, making the most of their first final outing for 31 years, but on the sidelines Mourinho urged his bench to calm down with an hour, at the least, still left on the clock.

After the break, Roma were firmly up against, with Feyenoord twice hitting the post. Rui Patrício superbly denied Lutsharel Geertruida to keep his side in front, while Chris Smalling repeatedly kept the competition’s top scorer, Cyriel Dessers, at bay.

In the end, Zaniolo’s goal was enough. Roma were champions, and their celebrations told you they cared not a jot about the competition’s name, trophy, or infancy.

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