Leicester’s European adventure came to an end in Rome when Tammy Abraham’s 27th goal of the season, an early header, decided this. Europa Conference League semifinal. Brendan Rodgers said he hoped his team could keep his story, but he dropped out of the competition after failing to hurt Roma at a typically noisy Stadio Olimpico. José Mourinho could yet cap his first season in charge of the Serie A club with a trophy in Tirana later this month.
Rodgers knew his players would receive a warm Roman welcome and they were greeted in an intimidating environment. They arrived on the pitch about an hour before kick-off to loud boos, even as the 3,500 traveling fans cheered for the name of their title-winning manager, Claudio Ranieri, who led these two clubs with mixed success, drowned out. by a partisan home crowd, but the goalkeepers seemed determined to keep things loose, beginning their warm-up with a challenge to the crossbar from mid-pitch.
Outside, Roma fans were preparing for the match on the Ponte Duca d’Aosta, the bridge over the River Tiber, a scene of carmine red haze. Leicester chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha who mingled with his supporters in Eindhoven in the previous roundhe made sure to approach the away fans before shaking hands with each of his players as they came out for warm-up.
Shortly before kick-off, the Curva Sud unfurled a giant typhus depicting the words In Britannia Cuncti Nomen Romanorum Horrebant, “Everyone in Britain fears the name of the Romans.” Rodgers had explicitly pointed out that Roma’s key threats were on the counterattack and set-pieces, so the sight of Abraham over Ricardo Pereira to head in from a corner that opened after 11 minutes would have been irritating. Rodgers quietly retreated to the away bench. Mourinho was unmoved, as if this was par for the course.
By then, Roma had spooked Kasper Schmeichel, a Lorenzo Pellegrini free-kick towards the front post forcing the Leicester goalkeeper into an unconvincing save, after Pereira brought down Roma’s exuberant winger Nicola Zalewski. who also impressed in the first leg.
Rodgers lined up his team to attack Roma: James Justin and Harvey Barnes replaced Timothy Castagne and Marc Albrighton and the coach recognized the need for pace at both ends and placed his three strikers midway in the corners, but they didn’t. they were able to test Rui Patrício during a frustrating first half. Six minutes after falling behind, Schmeichel was on the alert to make a save from a tight angle after Pellegrini latched on to a nice through ball and Roma headed down the tunnel at half-time without flinching. Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, a year after playing for Luton at home to Rotherham in the Championship, tried his hand at a curling effort that always sailed wide and soon after the giant screens at either end of this huge stadium were showing the face of a quite happy Francesco Totti. It was that kind of night.
Rodgers switched to a three-point defense at halftime, bringing in Daniel Amartey and Kelechi Iheanacho in place of Barnes and Ademola Lookman, who had been easily chained, and pushed Pereira and Justin back and forth. Leicester restarted with perceptible vigor, Dewsbury-Hall dug in his heels to win a free kick and moments later, Justin lunged forward down the left flank before his attempt to select Jamie Vardy was cut off by a corner. Dewsbury-Hall fired another wide shot shortly after the television cameras focused on Ranieri. The Italian stood up to acknowledge the applause coming from both the home and away sections. Leicester had woken up and Vardy saw a shot blocked after finding James Maddison’s low corner.
Leicester saw more of the ball in the second half but their first shot on goal didn’t come until the 79th minute when Maddison struck straight at Patrício and Iheanacho found the same goal a few minutes later. Zalewski saw a shot blocked by substitute Castagne and Abraham rallied the home crowd for Mourinho’s side to cross the line.