AS Roma had already secured the Europa League group stage win ahead of their matchday six meeting with Finnish side HJK Helsinki at the Stadio Olympico. Roma looked to complete their perfecy group stage.
The Finns, on the other hand had everything to play for, after a surprisingly good European campaign with seven points from five matches, and a chance to take second place in the group with a result in Rome.
The first half went by slowly, with the Italians dominanting posession, but having few clear cut scroing chances. They were closest to scoring in the 36th minute, as a Ahmed El Shaarawy header was just wide.
During the second half, Jose Mourinho made several changes, including Leonardo Spinazzola, Tammy Abraham, and Gini Wijnaldum.
After a hour played a goal seemed inevitable, a miracle that it hadn’t already come, but the, already-inpatient Roma fans wouldn’t have to wait for long. A Leonardo Spinazzola flick found Abraham open in the box who was promptly tripped by Aapo Halme. Abraham covnverted the penalty stylishly into the top corner.
It certainly didn’t look easy for Helsinki to get a result anymore, as they’d hardly had anything forward all game, with an xG of less than 0.1.
A 77th minute tackle by Paulo Dybala on Lucas Lingman changed that. The tacke was extremely reckless for the already cautioned midfielder was sent off with a second yellow card.
AS Roma promptly withdrew to defend for the rest of the match, giving HJK a golden chance to get a result from Rome.
Just like in their match at Ludogorets, one chance was all it took. With just three minutes left in regular time, Winger David Browne’s move got him past his man, allowing him to cross the ball low into the box, finding Bojan Radulovic’s left foot. Radulovic’s shot was initially stopped by Rui Patricio, but Atomu Tanaka pounced on the rebound, finishing the ball into the net.
The rest of the game went by swiftly, Roma resumed their dominant game, but without producing any serious chances. The match ended 1-1.
The result means HJK Helsinki took a surprise second place in group C, with 8 points from six matches, the teams best performance in European group stages.
The draw alone wouldn’t have done it for the finns if they wished to take second place in the group and stay in the Europa League. The Finns would need help from Bulgaria, which they got as Real Betis suffered an excruciating 1-0 loss at winless Ludogorets. The result meant Betis would remain at 7 points and take third place.
Helsinki will continue its Europa League campaign in February against Group C third place finishers Viktoria Plzen in the Europa League round of 32. Helsinki faced Plzen last summer in the Champions league qualifying, where they suffered a 7-1 aggregate loss to the Czechs.
Betis will continue its journey in the Conference League round of 32 against group C runner ups Austria Wien.