Roma stuns Barcelona to reach Champions League semifinal

Roma's Aleksandar Kolarov celebrates with Alisson Becker at the end of the matchRoma didn’t have much chance of staying alive in Champions League competition after falling 4-1 to Barcelona to open their quarterfinal tie, but they did have an away goal, which provided a glimmer of hope. That away goal proved crucial on Tuesday, when Roma engineered a stunning 3-0 upset victory at home to knock Barcelona out and advance to the semifinals.

Roma had developed a reputation for staunch defending at home in their Champions League matches after not conceding a goal at home during the competition, and while they kept that streak of clean sheets going, few expected a dominant display on offense from the Italian side. Unlike Barcelona, which has one of this generation’s greatest offensive wizards in Lionel Messi, Roma’s lineup is filled with veteran workhorses like Daniele De Rossi, but a slight tactical shift by manager Eusebio Di Francesco turned the tables and used Barcelona’s greatest strength against them.

Di Francesco altered his team’s formation and instructed them to press high to disrupt Barcelona’s preferred style of build-up early, essentially cutting Messi off from the ball. That high pressure put Roma striker Edin Dzeko in position to run onto a long pass from De Rossi and beat Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the sixth minute. Roma continued to press and create chances throughout the first half, but they were unable to score again until Barcelona defender Gerard Pique hauled down Dzeko inside the 18-yard box to set up a penalty kick, which De Rossi converted in the 58th minute.

Perhaps sensing that their seemingly insurmountable advantage was evaporating, Barcelona began to play with more urgency, but Roma kept pressing and were rewarded in the 82nd minute. Kostas Manolas headed a corner kick past Ter Stegen to level the aggregate score at 4-4 and put Roma ahead thanks to their away goal from the first leg. Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde scrambled to find an attacking spark by subbing in Paco Alcacer and Ousmane Dembele in the 85th minute, but there wasn’t enough time remaining for either forward to make a difference.

Roma is only the third team in Champions League history to rally from a three-goal aggregate deficit in the second leg of a tie, and they join Premier League squad Liverpool in the semifinal stage. The other two semifinal spots will be decided Wednesday, with Juventus needing a miracle in Madrid down 3-0 to Real Madrid and Bayern Munich looking to protect a 2-1 advantage at home against Sevilla.