It took only nine minutes for Roma defender Juan to level the aggregate scores, yet almost two hours later – despite numerous chances at either end – there was still nothing to choose between the sides as first extra time and then spot-kicks ensued. Both goalkeepers made saves in the shoot-out, from Mirko Vučinić and Eduardo da Silva respectively, before Max Tonetto’s decisive miss. Tonetto blazed Roma’s eighth effort over as the Giallorossi’s dream of playing the final at their home stadium, as they had done in 1984, died.
Arsenal, who had come to attack, made the more assured opening, but the first few minutes turned out to be all about Juan. First the Brazilian, back from a thigh injury, came to David Pizarro’s rescue after Robin van Persie had pounced on a back-pass. The centre-back then briefly limped off with the majority of the 65,000 tifosi fearing the worst, yet was soon back with a bang as Francesco Totti’s left-wing cross found its way through the legs of William Gallas and Rodrigo Taddei for Juan to control before calmly side-footing past Manuel Almunia.
The goal shook Arsenal’s composure. First Marco Motta and then Taddei forced Almunia into diving saves. Juan finally departed the action, prompting coach Luciano Spalletti to introduce Júlio Baptista and shift John Arne Riise to centre-half. Philippe Mexès was already out with flu, and Arsenal almost capitalised on this deficiency when Abou Diaby met Gaël Clichy’s cross with a firm header which Doni saved at his feet.
Five minutes after half-time, Totti spread the ball wide to Taddei whose first-time delivery appeared perfect for Baptista but the former Arsenal player could not direct his header. The game was opening up and Totti, so often the hero of the Stadio Olimpico, almost brought the house down with an instinctive early volley that dropped just wide. Shortly afterwards Roma’s captain bought precious central space with a quick turn only for Almunia to stop his drive. It was breathtaking stuff as both teams attacked and Diaby flashed a shot narrowly wide.
It was inevitable the pace would relent as extra time approached. Arsène Wenger threw Theo Walcott on as Arsenal pressed although the clearer opportunities belonged to Roma. Totti helped on Taddei’s centre but Baptista, again alone in front of goal, miscued. However, with seconds of normal time left, Van Persie’s deflected effort skidded wide and, from the resulting corner, Kolo Touré leapt highest to plant his header over.
Alberto Aquilani and Eduardo brought fresh legs to the action as the tie entered overtime. Totti saw his seemingly goalbound effort strike Vučinić before Van Persie, with Arsenal now playing on the counter, volleyed tiredly over. On to penalties and though Eduardo’s opening salvo was kept out by Doni, Vučinić fired Roma’s second attempt straight at Almunia. So it went to sudden death, with the sides remaining neck and neck until, after Diaby had converted, the pressure got to Tonetto.