Diego Perotti puts final touch on historic night for determined Roma
Roma capped off a hugely important day in their history by defying expectations and topping Champions League Group C, thanks to a scrappy single-goal win over resilient Qarabag.
Star man Diego Perotti, who shot Roma into the group stages in the final seconds of last season, nodded them into the competition's last 16 on Tuesday night, pouncing on the rebound after Edin Dzeko fluffed a one-on-one with Qarabag keeper Ibrahim Sehic eight minutes after half-time. That goal, combined with Chelsea failing to capitalise on their dominance over Atletico Madrid, was enough for the Giallorossi to draw level with the Blues on 11 points and sneak above them on head-to-head results. It came on the day that the club was finally given the go-ahead to build their new stadium after six years of planning, bureaucratic hurdles and fierce political opposition.
Despite having most of their backline out injured, Qarabag held off the dominant home side for long periods and even managed to cause Roma problems on the break. However, Roma had 20 shots to Qarabag's three and 63 percent possession, and when the goal came it was well deserved. After the match, Romanisti stayed at the Stadio Olimpico to await the result from Stamford Bridge and joined in a hearty version of club anthem "Grazie Roma" after the score came in.
Not the best display, but a wonderful result that over the course of the group Roma heartily deserved.
When the groups were drawn no one would have had Roma qualifying, let alone topping a group ahead ofwe Chelsea and Atletico. But coach Eusebio Di Francesco has led his side to three wins and just one defeat in Group C, an incredible feat when you consider that Roma had won just one in their previous 16 Champions League matches. Tuesday night was Di Francesco's Roma in a nutshell: not spectacular but dogged and well organised. As fans of second-placed Chelsea will tell you, that can take you a long way.
Despite having their first-choice XI out on the pitch, Roma really struggled to get going. The first half was terribly sluggish and lacking urgency, and with Atletico always in the game at Stamford Bridge that led to horribly nervy moments. Alisson only had to make two saves but both were from presentable opportunities, and the longer the score stayed 1-0 in Rome and 1-1 in London the worse the fear of a Qarabag counter was.
6 -- Di Francesco had his best team available and he stuck with what he knows, a 4-3-3 that shifted to a 4-5-1 when necessary. As expected his side dominated from start to finish, so in that sense he did a good job. The lack of intensity in the first-half performance was disappointing, especially for such a big game.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Alisson, 6 -- Did what little he had to do very well.
DF Alessandro Florenzi, 7 -- Did much more attacking than defending and held his end up well.
DF Kostas Manolas, 6 -- Bad with the ball, good at the back. Not that Qarabag offered much threat.
DF Federico Fazio, 6 -- When your team is dominating the pitch, he is the ideal player to build from the back.
DF Aleksandar Kolarov, 7 -- If the vast majority of attacks start down his flank there must be a reason. A calming influence.
MF Radja Nainggolan, 6 -- Sluggish in the first half, but perked up after the break.
MF Daniele De Rossi, 6 -- Kept things ticking over nicely in the middle of the park. Orderly rather than spectacular.
MF Kevin Strootman, 7 -- Neat back-heel to set Dzeko through in what ultimately resulted in Perotti's goal. The one player who went at it from the opening whistle.
FW Stephan El Shaarawy, 6 -- Seems to be slipping back into his usual inconsistent self. Full of willing and heart, however.
FW Edin Dzeko, 5 -- An off night. Struggled to free himself from Qarabag's tight marking and missed the chance that led to Perotti's goal.
FW Diego Perotti, 8 -- With five goals in his last eight matches the Argentine is Roma's form player, and he showed it fully here.
MF Gerson, NR -- Did a sterling sub's job in place of El Shaarawy.
MF Lorenzo Pellegrini, NR -- Helped give Roma a bit more solidity in the final minutes.
Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley