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
Nine weeks ago, Tulane University football players had many things to be excited about. They were picked to finish third in the Conference USA preseason poll and were returning a talented crew of upperclassmen. Players were even discussing a possible return to a bowl game.”There are no specific goals, it’s just to be a champion,” Tulane quarterback Lester Ricard said in a preseason press release. “Whether that’s conference champion or some type of bowl. My expectations are high. I feel like we can go 13-0, max it out.”In the beginning, expectations were high and players were pumped. However no one was expecting Hurricane Katrina.When the hurricane hit eight weeks ago, it forced Tulane athletes and students to relocate for the semester. Green Wave athletes suddenly had different goals in mind. “We’re not going to use being a homeless football team as a reason to not try to succeed on the field,” Tulane head coach Chris Scelfo said in a press release. “We’re playing for a lot of people and the pressure is high, but our coaches and players are all up for the challenge. We are representing our university and our city and that gives us inspiration.”Though heads may have initially hung low, Tulane football players and other athletes have been grateful with their new homes. The football team has relocated to Ruston, La., and enrolled at Louisiana Tech University. Six other teams — men’s basketball, women’s swimming and diving, women’s volleyball, women’s soccer and men and women’s tennis have moved to Texas A&M University. Texas Tech has welcomed baseball and women’s basketball squads, while Southern Methodist University has admitted men and women’s golf. Both cross country teams will not compete this year.It’s been a rough two months for these athletes. They no longer need a win to be satisfied. Most players have been thrilled through simply competing.”Our team opened with an exhibition meet this weekend and that was the best four hours of therapy this group of student-athlete and coaches could have gotten,” Tulane head swim coach Daniella Irle said Monday in an e-mail. “Eight weeks ago we were not sure we were going to have an athletic department let alone a season. In these past eight weeks I can honestly say that this staff has been truly challenged both professionally and personally, as have our student-athletes. It has been very difficult at times but we also have had some very gratifying and humbling moments as well. I have always felt that the swimming and diving community possessed unusual generosity and camaraderie and I really know that to be true.”It may have taken a new home for these athletes to finally find the true meaning of sports — the thrill of competition — but they have been in a struggle to find ways to win. Though once tabbed the nation’s No. 1 defense after allowing an average of 176 yards per game, the football team has been in a rut, winning only two games this season. Tulane volleyball has only managed to post a 2-8 record midway through the season. Last year, the team won seven of its first 10 games.The Green Wave women’s soccer team has only posted one victory in 11 games, although it did not have an impressive record last season (7-10-2).All sports teams have found their schedules shortened. They have also been forced to play all games on the road.It’s a grim situation, but their seasons would not have taken place without the help of Texas A&M, SMU, Texas Tech and Louisiana Tech.”Our thanks go out to so many people who have made this season happen for us,” Irle said. “So many people have come together to help us provide our ladies with a season that is similar to what they had beforehand. [Everyone who has donated is] the reason we got off to a great start this year and the reason we are even in business right now. Our budgets are really non-existent at this time, so these gifts have been our only source of securing items and a sense of normalcy for our young women.”Though winning may not be a priority for Tulane, as it is for other schools, Green Wave athletes are satisfied by just competing, and that is what athletics should be about.