Marco Ambrosio and Flavio Roma overcame Serie A rejection to thrive on the highest stage.
By Paolo Menicucci
If there are two players who perfectly fit the ancient Roman saying that "Nemo profeta in patria" - meaning no one is a prophet in his own land - they are Chelsea FC goalkeeper Marco Ambrosio and his AS Monaco FC counterpart Flavio Roma.
In June 1993, the two custodians faced each other in the final of the Scudetto Primavera, the Italian youth cup, between Ambrosio's Atalanta BC and Roma's S.S. Lazio. Atalanta, who fielded Alessio Tacchinardi, Domenico Morfeo and Thomas Locatelli, won 6-0 on aggregate against a Lazio team featuring Alessandro Nesta and Marco Di Vaio.
"Tonight Ambrosio saved even the insects who were flying close to him," said Atalanta's then director of sport Giorgio Vitali of the goalkeeper's star performance. But neither Ambrosio nor Roma's careers subsequently went as planned.
Serie A rejection
The 30-year-old Ambrosio has only 20 Serie A appearances to his name while Roma, 29, played only 32 times in Italy's top flight. However, both men have helped their clubs to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals, a stage notable for its absence of Serie A teams.
Ambrosio made some crucial saves as Chelsea beat London rivals Arsenal FC 3-2 on aggregate, while Roma aided Monaco in their shock defeat of Real Madrid CF. The two keepers could now be on opposite sides in the semi-final.
It has not been plain-sailing for Ambrosio, though, since joining Chelsea on a free transfer from AC Chievo Verona last summer. He signed his three-year contract before Roman Abramovich's arrival at Stamford Bridge and broke into the starting lineup only after injuries to No1 Carlo Cudicini and fellow summer buys Neil Sullivan and Jürgen Macho.
His biggest games previously had been a Coppa Italia quarter-final for Chievo against AC Milan and a UEFA Cup tie between UC Sampdoria and Athletic Club Bilbao in 1997. "My whole world has changed. I never imagined playing in these matches," he said. "I have worked very hard these past few months and have been waiting for this chance for a long time.
I was eager to show Chelsea fans and the club that I was good enough."
Roma started his career with Lazio in 1991 but had to wait until 1999 to make his Serie A debut with Piacenza FC. He played 32 matches that season but failed to help his club avoid relegation. After playing the following campaign in Serie B, he decided to move to the Stade Louis II, where he soon established himself as Monaco's first-choice keeper.
"This is the highlight of my career but I am never satisfied," Roma said. "It is fantastic to defeat Real Madrid but now we have a good chance against Chelsea. If we reach the final, it will be an amazing achievement but once you are there and see that trophy, how can you not try and win it?"
He added: "
The fact both myself and Ambrosio have reached the semi-finals is proof that we could have had success in Italy. However, it also means we feel fine where we are now, and that the Italian school of goalkeepers is really good."
Their compatriot Cudicini could yet recover from a broken hand in time to meet Monaco, but if Ambrosio plays, he and Roma could be having flashbacks to another two-legged tie more than a decade ago.