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BY SAMSON MBII,3RD MAY 2018-Liverpool have booked their place in the final of the Champions League for the first time in 11 years despite falling to a 4-2 defeat at the hands of Roma in the second leg of their semi-final at the Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday night.
Jurgen Klopp‘s side took a commanding 5-2 lead to the Italian capital from the first leg, but they were forced to hold off some heavy Roma pressure in the second half to eventually go through 7-6 on aggregate in a record-breaking semi-final.
It looked like being a straightforward passage through to the showpiece after Sadio Mane had given Liverpool the lead after only nine minutes, but a freak own goal from James Milner restored parity on the night just six minutes later.
Georginio Wijnaldum‘s header sent Liverpool into half time ahead, but Roma refused to give up hope and launched a second-half fightback which saw Edin Dzeko pull one back early and the hosts go on to create a string of chances.
Radja Nainggolan scored twice in the final five minutes to take the match right down to the wire, but his second goal – a controversial penalty – proved to be the last action of the game as Liverpool held on to book their place in the final for the first time since 2007.
The Reds will now take on two-time defending champions Real Madrid in Kiev on May 26 looking to lift the trophy for a sixth time, and a first since the memorable final of 2005.
Roma unsurprisingly came flying out of the blocks in search of an early goal – as they did when pulling off a three-goal comeback against Barcelona in the last round – and Dzeko in particular looked bright in the opening exchanges with a couple of headed half-chances.
A fever-pitch Stadio Olimpico was almost sent into raptures when Alessandro Florenzi fired a swerving long-range strike inches wide six minutes in, but just three minutes later the stadium fell into near-silence as Liverpool took the lead on the night.
A misplaced pass from Nainggolan gifted Liverpool possession in a dangerous area, allowing Roberto Firmino to slide the ball into the path of Mane, who put a wasteful performance in the first leg behind him to stroke his finish past Alisson Becker – the first Champions League goal Roma had conceded at the Stadio Olimpico this season.
The goal also saw Liverpool’s front three become the most prolific trio in a single Champions League campaign ever, with Salah, Firmino and Mane combining for 29 goals to surpass Real Madrid’s 28-goal tally supplied by Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema in 2013-14.
Suddenly the hosts were left needing four goals to progress, and they wasted no time in trying to reduce the deficit with Dzeko again threatening with a low ball into the box which narrowly eluded two teammates in the middle.
Mohamed Salah then had his first sight of goal with a low curling effort which Alisson held onto comfortably, but while Liverpool looked capable of scoring more, they were left to rue a rotten stroke of luck which gifted Roma an equaliser after 15 minutes.
Stephan El Shaarawy‘s header at the back post sent the ball back into a dangerous area where Dejan Lovren beat Dzeko to it, but the Liverpool defender’s clearance cannoned into the head of an unwitting Milner before rebounding past a helpless Loris Karius.
The leveller again raised belief inside the stadium that the hosts could pull off a memorable comeback, but Liverpool responded well and Mane sent Alisson scrambling with a curling effort before the Roma keeper pulled off a stunning reaction save to deny the Senegal winger after good work from Andrew Robertson down the left.
The resulting corner saw Liverpool regain their lead on the night, though, as Wijnaldum scored his first ever away goal for the club in timely fashion by nodding the ball past Alisson from close range after Roma had failed to clear their lines from the initial delivery.
Wijnaldum’s strike saw Liverpool become the first team to net 46 times in a single European campaign as the goalscoring records continued to tumble, but their defence was less convincing and Roma almost restored parity once again 10 minutes before half time when El Shaarawy’s effort deflected off Milner and against the post with Karius beaten.
Florenzi then sliced an effort wide of the target but, despite scoring a goal and carrying a threat throughout the half, Roma went into the break without registering a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.
That concerning statistic changed just seven minutes into the second half, though, as Roma set about looking to get the four goals they needed just to force extra time by levelling things up on the night once again.
A mistake from Trent Alexander-Arnold allowed El Shaarawy in down the left flank before cutting inside and drawing a save from Karius, although the Liverpool keeper could only parry the ball straight out to Dzeko, who took his time before punishing the error.
With that goal Dzeko became the first Roma player ever to score in five successive Champions League games, while it also made the tie the highest-scoring semi-final in the competition’s history.
More importantly for the home side, it sparked another rush of momentum as they refused to give up hope, with Cengiz Under the next to come close when his touch to a lofted ball over the top almost crept past Karius.
Having conceded one freak goal already, a similar one almost followed just past the hour mark when Alexander-Arnold’s clearance struck Dzeko inside the six-yard box, but this time the ball fell to El Shaarawy and the Liverpool youngster redeemed himself with a last-ditch block from point-blank range.
However, the replay showed that Alexander-Arnold denied the goal with his hand, leaving Roma feeling hard done by that they weren’t awarded a penalty.
It was relentless pressure from the hosts, though, and they were soon back on the front foot with Aleksandar Kolarov drilling a dangerous low cross into the box moments before Dzeko skewed an effort wide from a promising position inside the area.
Liverpool finally managed to get out of their own half and create a chance of their own with a little over 20 minutes remaining, but Alisson was equal to Firmino’s low drive after Milner, Mane and Salah had all been involved in the buildup.
Roma were soon threatening again, though, and Maxime Gonalons, Patrik Schick and Dzeko all failed to hit the target with ambitious efforts as the clock continued to tick down.
Dzeko was Roma’s main danger all night and he came close again with 10 minutes remaining, peeling off Alexander-Arnold before taking the ball down and getting a shot away which needed a mixture of Karius and Lovren to deal with.
The hosts had certainly created enough chances to have made the contest interesting, and just when it looked as though all hope was lost they finally took one of them, with Nainggolan arrowing a pinpoint finish in off the post from just outside the area.
Nainggolan’s celebration suggested that not even the Roma players believed they could pull the comeback off, though, and the celebrations were even muted when the home side were awarded a penalty in the last of three added minutes.
Ragnar Klavan was harshly punished for a handball inside the area and Nainggolan stepped up to smash his penalty straight down the middle, but that proved to be the final action of another thrilling match as Liverpool survived a major scare to progress through 7-6 on aggregate.
Liverpool will now meet Real Madrid in a repeat of the 1981 European Cup final, which the English outfit won 1-0 courtesy of an Alan Kennedy goal.
ROMA (4-3-3): Alisson; Florenzi, Manolas, Fazio, Kolarov; Pellegrini (Under 53′), De Rossi (Gonalons 69′), Nainggolan; Schick, Dzeko, El Shaarawy (Antonucci 75′)
LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Karius; Alexander-Arnold (Clyne 93′), Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Henderson, Milner; Salah, Firmino (Solanke 87′), Mane (Klavan 83′)