Jose Mourinho saluted Paulo Dybala after his late equaliser paved the way for Roma’s dramatic extra-time victory over Feyenoord in the Europa League quarter-finals.
The Giallorossi set up a semi-final showdown with Bayer Leverkusen after coming from behind to defeat Feyenoord 4-2 on aggregate at Stadio Olimpico.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, Roma were on the brink of elimination after Igor Paixao’s header cancelled out Leonardo Spinazzola’s earlier strike.
But Dybala, who was introduced as a substitute after missing Sunday’s victory over Udinese through injury, levelled the tie with a sharp turn and finish forcing extra time, in which further strikes from Stephan El Shaarawy and Lorenzo Pellegrini sealed the deal.
It was the former Juventus forward’s 16th goal of the season and fourth in the Europa League – a tally only bettered by Marcus Rashford, Victor Boniface (both six) and Santiago Gimenez (five) – and his exploits drew praise from his head coach.
“My feeling is that he was seeking the joy, he had lost more than confidence,” Mourinho told Sky Sport Italia.
“He found it here. He has found a coach who understands him, a crowd that loves him and a space on the field in which to be a leader with his quality and personality.
“Dybala is a nice boy. He has the quality to play for the biggest clubs in the world, but he has found joy here.
“I gave him absolute freedom to come on tonight, and he could come off even two minutes later if he didn’t feel up to it. But he played 30 minutes of extra time and 25 minutes regular, and he finished on a high.”
BIG GAME PLAYER.#UEL pic.twitter.com/RIT8ZD5y6h
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) April 20, 2023
Meanwhile, Dybala also paid tribute to Mourinho who, having guided Roma to the Europa Conference League title last season, is closing in on a sixth triumph in European competition.
“I think everyone knows Mourinho, his history, what he’s done in Europe and at every club he worked at, I think he won something,” the forward added.
“His mentality fuels you. He knew the game could end up like this and pushed us to give something more. He changed the tactical system, we started playing better and dominated extra time for a deserved victory.
“I think we all want to win, which is the most important thing. We have a coach with an incredible mentality. He told us the game would be like that, and he was absolutely right.
“This squad won the Europa Conference League last season, so they know what it takes to win. Now, we hope to go all the way in the Europa League too.”
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