Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco has urged his side to believe in a “miracle” to overturn a 4-1 deficit against Barcelona and advance to the Champions League semifinals this evening.
“We have to believe in something important and go for it with great love and passion. They will play their best to confirm the result but we can also produce a miracle,” Di Francesco told a pre-match press conference.
“It’s difficult, but we have to believe. We stopped (Lionel) Messi (in the first leg) and we have to try to do it again tomorrow.”
Edin Dzeko scored a valuable away goal after own goals from Daniele De Rossi and Kostas Manolas in the Camp Nou, but the Italians need a remarkable comeback at the Stadio Olimpico to advance to final four for the first time since 1984.
Barcelona star Lionel Messi returns to the Stadio Olimpico where his stunning header sealed the Champions League title in 2009 against Manchester United.
The Argentine – back from a hamstring problem and subdued in the first leg – warmed up with a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Leganes Saturday as Barcelona equalled the record longest unbeaten run in La Liga history.
“I don’t see it as being tied up in any way,” said Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde ahead of the return.
Messi and teammate Andres Iniesta are poised for a milestone of 100 Champions League appearances together. Iniesta is a veteran of 129 Champions League games, and Messi, 124.
Roma have slipped to fourth in Serie A after a 2-0 home defeat to Fiorentina, making it three games without a win, and a seventh home defeat. Di Francesco’s side will be looking to avoid equalling the club’s record of eight home defeats in all competitions going back 70 years. “Maybe Barcelona away are not the same team as at the Camp Nou, we will try to close down Messi wherever he is on the pitch,” said the Roma coach. Roma have kept a clean sheet in all of their European games at home this season while the Catalan giants have struggled to get goals away in the Champions League, setting the scene for a low-key scoring affair in the Stadio Olimpico.
From a possible sacrifice for his cash-strapped club in January, Edin Dzeko again proved his worth to Roma with his 19th goal of the season in the first leg.
After the 32-year-old’s proposed move to Chelsea fell through in the winter transfer window, Dzeko helped the club’s balance sheet by securing Roma’s place in the last eight of Europe’s lucrative elite competition.
And the former Manchester City striker showed his class and his talents by getting a goal back against the Spanish league leaders.
Andres Iniesta could be playing his final games for Barcelona as he has said he will make a decision on whether to accept an offer to move to China before the end of April.
Iniesta, 33, penned a new contract at Camp Nou earlier this season but the terms of the deal allow him to leave at the end of each season.
The midfielder, who remains an important part of Valverde’s side, has said: “I will decide before April 30. There are still a few weeks left. There are two options: stay at Barcelona or go to China.”
Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets is still not fully fit as he comes back after breaking his toe against Chelsea last month with Philippe Coutinho not eligible to play and Lucas Digne injured. Roma’s Radja Nainggolan has recovered from injury while Di Francesco has said Turkish forward Cengiz Under is fit again and will feature in the second leg. “The home crowd can be our weapon,” warned Di Francesco.