AS Roma may have been knocked out of the Coppa Italia on Tuesday evening, but they will forever remain in our hearts, after producing one of the most catastrophic 30 minutes of football in the process.
I Giallorossi welcomed relegation-threatened Spezia to Stadio Olimpico for the Round of 16 tie in the tournament, in what should have been a straightforward progression to the quarter-finals.
Instead, it turned into one of the biggest nightmares a team could possibly imagine, and has left coach Paulo Fonseca on the brink of the sack. So, what exactly went wrong for the Serie A giants in their cup adventure?
The set-up: 2-2 in normal time
In fairness, the warning signs were in place from the first whistle. Roma somehow contrived to fall two goals behind inside the opening 15 minutes, leaving them with plenty of work to do. Amazingly, that bears little relevance to the disaster that later ensued.
Fonseca’s men bounced back to pull level, and striker Borja Mayoral missed two great opportunities to complete the comeback, and book their place in the next round. Alas, the game went to extra-time. This is where the fun begins.
Extra time: two red cards… in a minute
Inside the first minute of the additional 30, defender Gianluca Mancini flew into a risky challenge, caught his man, and received a second yellow card along with his marching orders. Now down to 10 men, Roma couldn’t afford any silly mistakes.
Fast forward a full 20 seconds.
Spezia played the free-kick forward and the long ball caught the Giallorossi defence flatfooted. Goalkeeper Pau Lopez came charging off his line and attempted a flying karate kick on the ball.
Unfortunately, the Spaniard missed his target completely, nearly decapitating the onrushing Spezia forward at the same time. The referee had no alternative than to award a free-kick, and to dish out his second red card in under a minute.
Insult to injury: Roma 2-4 Spezia
Now facing another 28 minutes with only nine men and the third-choice goalkeeper between the sticks, it was backs against the walls for the hosts. Fonseca’s boys clung on as best they could, but they were undone two minutes into the second half, when Daniele Verde scored to hand Spezia the lead.
To outsiders, that goal may carry no more significance than any other. But for Roma fans to witness a headed goal by a five foot five winger, who happened to have come through the Giallorossi academy and returned to haunt them, it was another kick in the goolies.
The torture did not end there, however. Riccardo Saponara killed the game on 119 minutes, producing a Francecso Totti-esque chip to humiliate stand-in shot-stopper Daniel Fuzato, and round off the embarrassment.
Cherry on the cake: the match is forfeited
So, the final 30 minutes were possibly the worst in football history. But fear not, Roma supporters, for the entire two hours were actually a complete waste of time.
It turns out that Roma’s bench had either lost count of the number of substitutions they’d made, or misunderstood the rules of the Coppa Italia, and accidentally made six changes instead of five during the match, officially voiding the result and forfeiting the game to Spezia.
Roma vice-captain Lorenzo Pellegrini was the only man who seemed to notice this clerical error at the time, repeatedly informing coach Fonseca and his staff that they were about to make a sixth substitution, but his pleas fell on deaf ears.
In the end, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, but it only added to the chaos that surrounds a team which has had to forfeit a match for the second time this season due to off the field errors.
Who would be a Roma supporter, eh?