Real Madrid do enough to top wasteful Roma in Champions League
MADRID -- Three quick thoughts from the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu as Real Madrid beat Roma 2-0 to progress 4-0 on aggregate to the Champions League quarterfinals.
1. Madrid do enough to go through
Cristiano Ronaldo scored one and made another as the Portuguese was once again the standout star for Real Madrid in a 2-0 victory against Roma to comfortable qualify for the Champions League's last eight.
Many Madrid fans arrived at the Bernabeu thinking this tie was already finished, given their side's 2-0 advantage from the first leg. But a valiant Roma side played their part in an entertaining 90 minutes, even if the visitors lacked the finishers to make a game of it.
Unlike when they almost blew the same lead at this stage against Schalke last year, Madrid were never really frightened here, although the match was much more open than they might have wanted. Roma winger Mohamed Salah again caused all kinds of damage to the right-side of Los Blancos' defence, but he and attacking partner Edin Dzeko both missed very good early chances.
Madrid also had their moments through the opening period -- with Ronaldo and Luka Modric denied by Roma goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. The first half was goalless but well balanced and full of action.
After the break it seemed like Madrid had been sent out by coach Zinedine Zidane to kill off the tie. But Roma kept catching them on the break, and Salah and right-back Alessandro Florenzi both had decent opportunities to bring their team right into it.
Ronaldo finally breaking the deadlock on 64 minutes realistically ended the Serie A side's chances -- and James Rodriguez netting soon afterwards gave the final aggregate score an unfair look.
This was though a first European win against any Italian opposition over two legs in 29 years for Madrid -- and now they go forward into the last eight. They will have to play a lot better though, especially in defence, if they draw any of the continents' giants in the next round.
2. Zidane brings back galacticos
Zidane surprised many with his starting XI here, with homegrown players and fan favourites Lucas Vazquez and Dani Carvajal benched, for expensive but underperforming signings Danilo and James to start. It looked a lineup designed to please club president Florentino Perez on his 69th birthday.
Eighty million euro man James had a very difficult first half. Early on he sent one long pass straight out of play, then soon afterwards slipped over on the edge of the box when trying to link with Ronaldo. The impatient Bernabeu crowd brought out the whistles midway through the first half, after the Colombia international was slow on the ball and crowded out by sharper opponents.
On the other side of the attack, fit again Gareth Bale was making his first start in 51 days. The Wales international was in his old position of wide-left and from the off provided the direct running and pace which Madrid's attack has lacked during his absence. One run and pull-back almost provided the opening goal for Marcelo, but the full-back shot into the side netting.
The galacticos switched wings at half-time, and Bale faded and was removed on 60 minutes. His replacement, Vazquez, received a huge roar from the stands. Almost immediately the winger sprinted down the right, and produced a perfect cross for Ronaldo to crash to the net at the near post for his 13th goal in this season's competition.
With Karim Benzema still injured, and Borja Mayoral with the Under-19s, the Portuguese was playing a central role, something he has not always enjoyed. But he showed a playmaker's touch with the assist for James to make it 2-0 -- a precise pass which teed up his teammate to drill a low shot past Szczesny. This was redemption, of a sort, for the former Monaco player, and by the end the Bernabeu crowd were happy enough with their night's entertainment.
3. Roma fail to make most of chances
On Monday, Roma boss Luciano Spalletti called on his players to "do the impossible" in overturning the two-goal deficit, and it was clear the Roma coach wanted his team to score first and try and affect a Bernabeu crowd which has been antsy lately.
Spalletti picked an attacking XI, with Dzeko recalled and he really should have scored on the quarter hour. Salah beat both Sergio Ramos and Marcelo down the right wing, and teed up a chance which the former Manchester City centre-forward sent into the side-netting.
Egypt international Salah had a great chance himself when Dzeko sent him clear, but Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas narrowed the angle well. The ex-Chelsea No. 11 had more chances to score either side of half-time, but first hit the ball too close to Navas, then sent it the wrong side of the post.
Neither Madrid left-back Marcelo nor left-sided centre back Ramos could get close to Salah for the hour in which the game was in the balance. But just like in the first leg last month, his end product did not match his exciting build-up work. It cost his side dearly.
Spalletti gave a late run to Francesco Totti, 39, who had on two occasions scored for Roma at the Bernabeu in the early 2000s. A decade and a half later, his team could have done with a younger version of their all-time great to finish at least some of the chances they created.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan