Sports

Roma surprises fans, reaches final four of Champions League

Just as in years past, the match between Derby della Capitale — also known as A.S. Roma — SS Lazio featured shots that struck the post but did not go in and groups of players shoving one another around accompanied by constant sliding and falling.

In an attempt to settle the players down, referees blew their whistles.

“The stakes are high,” Simone Inzaghi, the Lazio manager, said in the pre-match press conference. “It is an important match, and it will be fundamental for our journey.”

Eusebio Di Francesco, the head coach and manager of Roma, expressed similar rhetoric: “The enthusiasm and the awareness for what we have done is all fine, but the team has to take the field with the same determination, the same ruthless will to win, and the same desire to try to prevail.”

It ended in 0-0 after an eventful week for the Roman teams: Roma advanced to unchartered territory — a semi-final in the UEFA Champions League — for a generation of people after a remarkable comeback against FC Barcelona.

Lazio was humiliated by FC Red Bull Salzburg, a team from Austria, after a convincing win at home just a week earlier.

Tension was the theme of the match. Two teams had different spells in the two halves in which they dominated.

Lazio had seven offside calls against them before 30 minutes on the clock. While clumsy on the part of Ciro Immobile and Marco Parolo for not paying close enough attention to Roma’s defensive line, it was a testament to their pressing strategy up to that point, rendering Roma squeezed within its own half and unable to find a way to advance to Lazio’s goal.

At the latter period of the first half, Bruno Peres, after receiving a penetrating pass that went through the entire Lazio defense from Radja Nainggolan, fired a low-driven shot that hit the post.

Pressure by Roma began ratcheting up toward the end of the first half, but the half ended with
no goal.

Roma had chances to win the match at the end with an amazing sequence of events: Edin Džeko’s two headers at the 90th minute were first parried away by Thomas Strakosha and then struck the bar after a slight deflection by the Lazio defender Michael Bastos. Just seconds later, his powerful shot was just a whisker away from the post.

The red half of the Eternal City shocked the soccer world with an amazing comeback to advance to the semifinal of the Champions League, a stage of the competition they had not reached since 1983-84, but this draw was a continuation of its humdrum in the domestic league — two losses and
one draw.

Both teams, in a certain way, had exceeded expectations.

Lazio is at third place on the table now. Inzaghi got a full-time contract with Lazio with his impressive management of the team last season, but no one saw his workings at reinvigorating the career of Luis Alberto and Immobile or capitalizing on the elegance of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.

Roma, although expected to perform well in the future because of the recruitment of Director of Football Monchi, was not presumed to be in the final four at the Champions League in the eyes of many pundits before the season started.

Not only did Cengiz Ünder — a gem discovered by Monchi — announced himself with five goals in five games before the international break, Di Francesco, helped Roma display a series of performances that has not been seen even when Francesco Totti was in the team, especially given that Roma outplayed Chelsea F.C. and Atlético Madrid during the group stage.

Although Juventus F.C., with a 3-0 thumping against U.C. Sampdoria and S.S.C. Napoli drawing at San Siro might have won the Scudetto already, the race for a spot in the Champions League, but is still very competitive in Serie A.

Before Sunday night, the two teams were level on the league table with 60 points and Internazionale, also known as Inter Milan, after drawing against Atalanta B.C. at Bergamo, Italy, on Saturday, had 60 points as well.

Roma has a tougher schedule in the run-up to the end of the season as the opponents in line to face the Giallorossi will be Liverpool F.C. in the semifinal even if they do not reach the Champions League final and Juventus F.C. in the domestic scene.

Opponents against Lazio on the top-half of the Serie A table will be ACF Fiorentina, U.C. Sampdoria and Inter Milan.

April 24, 2018

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