Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco has urged his side to believe in a “miracle” to overturn a 4-1 deficit against Barcelona and advance to the Champions League semifinals this evening.“We have to believe in something important and go for it with great love and passion. They will play their best to confirm the result but we can also produce a miracle,” Di Francesco told a pre-match press conference.“It’s difficult, but we have to believe. We stopped (Lionel) Messi (in the first leg) and we have to try to do it again tomorrow.” Edin Dzeko scored a valuable away goal after own goals from Daniele De Rossi and Kostas Manolas in the Camp Nou, but the Italians need a remarkable comeback at the Stadio Olimpico to advance to final four for the first time since 1984.Barcelona star Lionel Messi returns to the Stadio Olimpico where his stunning header sealed the Champions League title in 2009 against Manchester United.The Argentine â€“ back from a hamstring problem and subdued in the first leg â€“ warmed up with a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Leganes Saturday as Barcelona equalled the record longest unbeaten run in La Liga history.“I don’t see it as being tied up in any way,” said Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde ahead of the return.Messi and teammate Andres Iniesta are poised for a milestone of 100 Champions League appearances together. Iniesta is a veteran of 129 Champions League games, and Messi, 124.Roma have slipped to fourth in Serie A after a 2-0 home defeat to Fiorentina, making it three games without a win, and a seventh home defeat. Di Francesco’s side will be looking to avoid equalling the club’s record of eight home defeats in all competitions going back 70 years. “Maybe Barcelona away are not the same team as at the Camp Nou, we will try to close down Messi wherever he is on the pitch,” said the Roma coach. Roma have kept a clean sheet in all of their European games at home this season while the Catalan giants have struggled to get goals away in the Champions League, setting the scene for a low-key scoring affair in the Stadio Olimpico.From a possible sacrifice for his cash-strapped club in January, Edin Dzeko again proved his worth to Roma with his 19th goal of the season in the first leg.After the 32-year-old’s proposed move to Chelsea fell through in the winter transfer window, Dzeko helped the club’s balance sheet by securing Roma’s place in the last eight of Europe’s lucrative elite competition.And the former Manchester City striker showed his class and his talents by getting a goal back against the Spanish league leaders.Andres Iniesta could be playing his final games for Barcelona as he has said he will make a decision on whether to accept an offer to move to China before the end of April.Iniesta, 33, penned a new contract at Camp Nou earlier this season but the terms of the deal allow him to leave at the end of each season.The midfielder, who remains an important part of Valverde’s side, has said: “I will decide before April 30. There are still a few weeks left. There are two options: stay at Barcelona or go to China.”Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets is still not fully fit as he comes back after breaking his toe against Chelsea last month with Philippe Coutinho not eligible to play and Lucas Digne injured. Roma’s Radja Nainggolan has recovered from injury while Di Francesco has said Turkish forward Cengiz Under is fit again and will feature in the second leg. “The home crowd can be our weapon,” warned Di Francesco.Share this:FacebookRedditTwitterPrintPinterestEmailWhatsAppSkypeLinkedInTumblrPocketTelegram
We’re finally here. Let’s pat ourselves on the back and trade a few clichés about “surviving the offseason” or getting Christmas in September. Fans always cherish opening week, especially in a sport like football that makes us wait eight months between campaigns. Everyone loves a fresh start, and as the tired phrase goes, all teams believe it’s their year on Week One.The excitement that engulfed this campus after the Trojans’ Rose Bowl victory hasn’t subsided — if anything, the summer months built the hype up to a fever pitch. But as I re-watched USC’s 2016 season on repeat all year (the Pac-12 Network has been running all the games nonstop since January), I realized this fall doesn’t feel like a fresh start, per se. It feels more like an encore.That’s not a mentality Trojan fans are used to as of late. Most season openers in recent memory have presented the opportunity to turn over a new leaf at USC after a disappointing previous campaign. When was the last time an opening-day crowd filed into the Coliseum still riding the high of the year before — and expecting even more?This optimism stems largely from the return of redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold, the preseason Heisman favorite. He saved the Trojans’ 2016 season, and we are running out of superlatives to praise him. Having said that, this USC squad as a whole is chock-full of talent, with multiple national award contenders on both sides of the ball. Without significant contributions from players like junior cornerback Iman Marshall and junior linebacker Cameron Smith, the Trojans won’t go anywhere, no matter what Darnold does.Fortunately, Darnold and the rest of the team know this — despite the media’s single-minded obsession with the potential No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NFL Draft. During Pac-12 Media Days in July, a throng of reporters gathered around Darnold, peppering him with questions about his game and about adjusting to the limelight. Someone asked if he had a secret weapon on offense.“You guys know about RoJo [junior running back Ronald Jones II], right?” Darnold laughed. “We’re looking to have a balanced attack this year … If we can run the ball, we’re going to have success throwing it.”Darnold’s mentality reflects USC’s greatest strength this year — because head coach Clay Helton loves to establish the ground game and Darnold relishes spreading the ball around, it’s difficult for opponents to key in on a specific Trojan threat. Jones was a 1,000-yard rusher last fall; redshirt sophomore tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe has emerged as a deadly threat in the red zone; junior wide receiver Deontay Burnett reeled in 56 receptions for 622 yards and caught seven touchdowns as a sophomore — including three scores against Penn State last January. To add another cliché, it has become about the team, not the players. It’s a far cry from just two years ago, when Cody Kessler force-fed JuJu Smith-Schuster 1,454 yards, with no other receiver on the team even reaching 500 receiving yards for the season (Adoree’ Jackson — a natural cornerback — had the second most on the team with 414).Of course, USC will undoubtedly miss NFL draftees Jackson and Smith-Schuster this season: The duo turned in three stalwart campaigns during a turbulent era of Trojan football program that saw leadership changes in both positions of head coach and athletic director. Despite the odds, they delivered an iconic Rose Bowl win to cap their college careers. But it’s time for the next generation to spur the program to even greater heights — the heights Jackson, Smith-Schuster and every other recruit dreams of when he signs with the Trojans.That climb begins this weekend, as Western Michigan visits the Coliseum to open the season. The Broncos enjoyed the best season in program history in 2016, but they have lost the services of former head coach P.J. Fleck, who jumped at the chance to coach in a Power Five conference and took the reins at Minnesota. Quarterback Zach Terrell, the school’s all-time leading passer, graduated, and wideout Corey Davis was drafted in the first round of the last NFL Draft. Unlike the Trojans, WMU has been forced into pushing the reset button.It’s a fortunate break for Helton’s squad. If the defending MAC champions still had their superstar trio, they would have almost certainly begun the year in the top 25, and USC would have had three consecutive games against ranked opposition to open the season. Not to say that the Broncos will be a cakewalk, but their weakened roster will be a relief to Trojan fans, considering most other Pac-12 teams square off against the likes of Rutgers and New Mexico State this week.However, unless the Trojans take a shocking loss, no questions will be answered on Saturday. If USC suffers an upset, the team’s lofty preseason dreams could very well go out the window on day one. And if Darnold and company trample the Broncos, it will just mean the first win of many needed over the course of the fall. As much optimism and excitement surrounds this program, there is an equal amount of paranoia. But that’s how you know your team is good — and that’s how you know football season is finally here.Ollie Jung is a senior studying print and digital journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, Jung Money, runs on Fridays.