Jose Mourinho’s return to England wasn’t a completely happy one as his Roma side were held to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Europa Conference League semi-final.
It was the Portuguese manager’s first game back in England after leaving Tottenham Hotspur last season, up against a team that he generally enjoyed facing. In his previous 11 games against Leicester, in charge of Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham, Mourinho had won eight, drawing one and losing just twice.
And he got off to an excellent start with Lorenzo Pellegrini opening the scoring for the away side after 15 minutes, his second goal in the Europa Conference League to go with one assist. But they would eventually be pegged in the second half as Gianluca Mancini diverted Ademola Lookman’s effort into his own next, securing Leicester the draw.
It means Italian clubs still haven’t won an away semi-final match against English sides in UEFA competitions, with their 14 games so far ending in five draws and nine defeats. Of course, fans of the Italian national team will treasure their European Championship semi-final win over Spain at Wembley last summer.
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But Mourinho has seen the positives of the result, knowing the tie will be decided in front of Roma’s own fans next week.
“I am sure that any Roma fans watching would’ve been happy to know this tie will be decided at the Stadio Olimpico,” he said.
“I know even with 70,000 fans in the stadium and even more outside, it’s still going to be tricky.
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“Now we’ve got Bologna on Sunday in Serie A, a team that play very well and win. Unlike Leicester, we have to focus on Serie A and trying to get fifth place, whereas they have no chance of qualifying for Europe.
“We need to forget the semi-final for three days and put all our focus on Bologna.”
Mourinho also praised the quality of the game against two sides that have both been in the Champions League in recent years, giving credit to the Europa Conference League while also slightly knocking it down.
“Maybe it’s a fair result,” he told BT Sport.
“They had more of the ball but we knew that. We were organised, we defended well, we couldn’t counter-attack as well as we could, we lost a few balls, a few possessions but the team was fantastic in attitude.
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“We played an opponent with a different culture, a different intensity and to take everything to Rome is good for us. I’m not saying it’s easy but it’s good to go home with this result. Let’s go for the final. I’m not speaking about the final in Tirana, but the ‘final’ in Rome.
“Nobody would believe this is a Conference League game. Credit to the competition to have a game of this level and a referee of this level. This game was too good for the Conference League.”
But remember, the winner of the Europa Conference League earns a spot in next season’s Europa League, so there is a bit more on the line for next week’s second leg.
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