Mohamed Salah, Edin Dzeko falter for Roma vs. Real Madrid
For a while it looked like Roma's Champions League Mission: Impossible at Real Madrid could have been downgraded to Mission: Thoroughly Doable. Luciano Spalletti's side arrived in the Spanish capital knowing that no team in the modern iteration of the competition had ever overcome a two-goal deficit from the home leg, but even after Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah spurned two fabulous opportunities with a quarter of Tuesday night's match gone, it looked like Roma could do the unthinkable and win a tie that after a 2-0 defeat in Rome looked lost.
They didn't, of course. Cristiano Ronaldo and James Rodriguez ended the Last 16 tie definitively in four second half minutes after Roma had missed three more opportunities to cut Real's aggregate, and the Italians were left ruing what might had been, had Salah been blessed with a right foot instead of two left ones.
The Gazzetta dello Sport accurately called it "the art of messing up already scored goals," and there was something perversely impressive about just how bad Roma's finishing was on Tuesday night. No one could have been that surprised at off-form Dzeko slicing his near post shot wide in the 14th minute after being slipped in thanks to Stephan El Shaarawy's sly dummy, but after banging in six goals in his previous six appearances, Salah was the one player in the Roma team you'd want chances to fall to.
They did, in the 28th and 51st minutes, but each time the Egyptian had to trust in his non-existent right peg, and each time he sent his shots into the side netting. The second opportunity was the most glaring, right in front of Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas and with no one within yards of him, and had the chance fallen to his left he would have almost certainly made it seven in as many games and sparked the tie back into life.
Instead Ronaldo nipped in front of Kostas Manolas to tap in his 13th goal in eight Champions League games 13 minutes later, and just like that Madrid were in the quarterfinals. Roma had had two other good opportunities in the meantime -- Manolas and Alessandro Florenzi at least making Navas work with their drilled efforts -- but the tie was lost with that second Salah miss. The 4-0 aggregate scoreline may be an unfair reflection of the two matches, but Spalletti is right to be worried that the players could leave the Bernabeu with their head held high after that result -- "how far we have fallen" indeed.
The weekend brings Roma the more prosaic matter of struggling Udinese away in Serie A. Out of the Champions League for another year, now Roma have to think about getting straight back into it, and hope that if they do, they put up more of a fight than they did this time round.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Wojciech Szczesny, 7 -- The Pole can't be blamed for either goal, and handled everything else that came his way brilliantly.
DF Alessandro Florenzi, 6 -- Too often gives the ball away in stupid positions but given he had to deal with Ronaldo for large portions of the evening, it's hard to fault his display playing out of position.
DF Kostas Manolas, 7 -- If Roma rarely looked troubled in defence, it's down to the Greek, who was assured in his handled of three superstar attackers.
DF Ervin Zukanovic, 7 -- Excellent alongside Manolas stepping in for the injured Antonio Rudiger. Roma are blessed to have got such sound back-up on the cheap.
DF Lucas Digne, 5 -- Going forward his crossing is still not good enough and he was caught out by Lucas Vazquez for the opening goal.
MF Miralem Pjanic, 6 -- The Bosnian was below his usual standards before being subbed at half-time with an ankle injury, perhaps because Roma's two-man midfield set up didn't allow him the freedom to move and create.
MF Seydou Keita, 7 -- Typically cool on the ball and disciplined in front of the defence, the former Barcelona midfielder lived up to his excellent recent form.
FW Mohamed Salah, 5 -- Could have levelled the tie on his own just by taking the two chances that fell to him. What a day to forget your shooting boots.
FW Diego Perotti, 7 -- Once again excellent, this time buzzing in behind a lead-footed Dzeko, constantly probing and hassling. Extremely unlucky to see his skimming late volley strike the post.
FW Stephan El Shaarawy, 6 -- The Italian was full of running and enthusiasm as part of the front four but struggled to impose himself on proceedings.
FW Edin Dzeko, 5 -- Missed the first of Roma's five gilt-edged opportunities, and looked off the pace all game. Not his best night in a Roma shirt, but then when is it?
MF William Vainqueur, 7 -- The Frenchman stepped in for Pjanic at half-time and was if anything better than his star teammate. Looked comfortable playing alongside Keita and against such illustrious company.
FW Francesco Totti, NR -- The standing ovation that Totti received from the Bernabeu as he replaced El Shaarawy with 16 minutes left was probably the highlight of Roma's night.
DF Maicon, NR -- A four-minute run-out with the match and tie done is no time to make any sort of impression. At least not in Maicon's case.
Terry Daley is based in Rome and has covered Italian football for both Reuters and AFP. He has written for Vice Sports and Mirror Football. Twitter: @T_Daley