A lone goal by Edin Dzeko put Roma past Shakthar Donetsk and booked them a ticket to the Champions League quarterfinals, a stage the Giallorossi have not seen in the last 10 years. The 2-2 aggregate score promoted Eusebio Di Francesco’s side on away goals, delivering a perfect birthday gift to President James Pallotta, who turned 60 today.
Let’s be clear: In their playoff with Shakhtar, the Giallorossi simply did what they were expected to do. Di Francesco’s masterpiece was rather making it alive in a difficult group stage, putting both Chelsea and Atlètico Madrid behind him – which earned Roma the advantage of an easier draw for the Round of 16. Then the seeding pots paired them with Shakhar, the Lupi being superior to the Ukrainian side on paper.
But Roma are Roma. In the Caput Mundi, they love to make their lives harder when it comes to football. Even if James Pallotta’s boys diligently did their homework tonight – they needed one goal, and one goal they scored – the double match with Paulo Fonseca’s orange-and-blacks turned out to be all but a stroll in the park.
Still, if Eusebio Di Francesco had learned one thing from the unfortunate first leg match in Kharkiv two weeks ago, with Roma succumbing 1-2 after taking the lead in the first half, it was that a shaking defensive line was the weak point of the Miners. This proved to be even truer tonight, in occasion of the two key episodes that shaped the destiny of the Giallorossi.
51 minutes into the game, after a mostly colorless first half, Kevin Strootman invented a magnificent long-range cross that the whole four-man back line of the visitors shockingly failed to read. Edin Dzeko, left all alone, grabbed the ball, and basically engaged in a shootout duel with goalkeeper Andrij Pyatov.
He won, sending the sphere between the goalie’s legs, and scoring another decisive goal after the double that demolished Napoli’s confidence two weeks ago. Not bad for somebody whom in January seemed ready to setup house in the Stamford Bridge area, and is still wearing a red-and-yellow jersey instead. With great results.
Shakhtar’s defence enriched their gallery of horrors with a new gem in the 78th minute, when a failed clearance propitiated a new run towards the box by Dzeko. Center back Ivan Ordets had no chance but knocking him down, earning a direct red card which put a damper on the Ukrainians’ residual hopes of changing the match trend.
But coach Paulo Fonseca showed he was still believing in it, and sent in a new striker to support Facundo Ferreyra for the final assault – an almost successful experiment, as Brazilians Taison and Ismaily kept plaguing Roma’s right flank until the very last second. It ended with the Giallorossi out of breath, but qualified.
With Juventus already securing their quarterfinals berth last week after a thrilling win in Wembley, Italy managed to place two teams among the Top 8 of Europe for the first time in 11 years. The draw for the quarterfinals will have no restrictions. How do you see a Roma-Juventus pairing?
March 13, 2018 – Champions League 2017-18 Round of 16
ROMA-SHAKHTAR DONETSK 1-0
SCORER: 52′ Dzeko (R)
|ROMA (4-3-3): Alisson; Florenzi, Manolas, Fazio, Kolarov; Nainggolan, De Rossi, Strootman; Under (65′ Gerson), Dzeko (89′ El Shaarawy), Perotti (Skorupski, Jesus, Bruno Peres, Pellegrini, Schick) Coach: Di Francesco|
|SHAKHTAR DONETSK (4-2-3-1): Pyatov; Butko, Ordets, Rakitskiy, Ismaily; Fred, Stepanenko (74′ Patrick); Marlos (82′ Dentinho), Taison, Bernard; Ferreyra (Kudryk, Khocholava, Zubkov, Petriak, Kovalenko) Coach: Fonseca|
REFEREE: Undiano Mallenco (Spain)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Florenzi, Manolas (R), Stepanenko, Fred, Ferreyra (S); Red Card: Ordets (S)