Liverpool reaches first Champions League final since 2007

Liverpool's-Sadio-Mane,-right,-celebrates-with-teammates

Liverpool's Sadio Mane, right, celebrates with teammates after scoring, during the Champions League semifinal second leg between Roma and Liverpool at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, Wednesday, May 2, 2018. (Riccardo Antimiani/ANSA via AP)

ROME — Way back in August when Liverpool was sweating its way through the playoffs just to qualify for the Champions League group phase, going all the way to the final wasn’t even on the Reds radar.

Not after a season in which Liverpool didn’t even play in Europe.

Not when no one could have imagined that Mohamed Salah would develop into a scorer to rival Lionel Messi. Or that Liverpool would score a Champions League-record 46 goals — surpassing the mark set by Barcelona in 1999-2000.

Yet 10 months later, Liverpool is going to face two-time defending champion Real Madrid for the most coveted trophy in club football.

Liverpool advanced to its first Champions League final in more than a decade despite a 4-2 loss at Roma on Wednesday.

The Reds scored two early goals and that was all they needed to advance 7-6 on aggregate after a 5-2 win in the first leg of the semifinals.

"We came in as a qualifier and now we’re in the final," Liverpool coach Juergen Klopp said. "Now we will go to Kyiv, which sounds crazy but is the truth. We will go to Kyiv."

The final is scheduled for May 26 in Ukraine.

Sadio Mane took advantage of a misplaced Roma pass to put Liverpool ahead nine minutes in and Georginio Wijnaldum restored the advantage with a header after Milner’s own goal.

Edin Dzeko equalized for Roma early in the second half and Radja Nainggolan scored two late goals for the hosts as the Giallorossi narrowly missed out on another miracle after their stunning 3-0 second-leg victory over Barcelona in the quarterfinals.

"Tonight was all about getting the job done," said Liverpool midfielder James Milner, who scored an own goal.

Madrid beat Bayern Munich 4-3 on aggregate in the other semifinal.

"These fans deserve to be in the final, and they’ll have a great time in Kyiv regardless of the result," Liverpool defender Andy Robertson said. "We ended up losing tonight, but they threw everything at us."

Roma was left feeling aggrieved about two penalty decisions that weren’t given.

"The VAR would have given us what was taken from us tonight," Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco said. "That was ridiculous. … But Liverpool certainly didn’t steal anything from us. They played 45 extraordinary minutes (in the first leg) and we played two second halves that were just as extraordinary."

Liverpool last reached the final in 2007, when it lost to AC Milan, having won the last of its five titles over Milan two years earlier.

The 13 goals scored between the two legs was a record for a Champions League semifinal.

"When two squads play in an open manner like that, it’s more like a boxing match," Di Francesco said. "There should be more matches like these."

Klopp was full of compliments for Roma.

"What a performance, what a comeback. What a brave football game," the German manager said. "It was the first time we were not as good as we can be. So we needed luck."

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