CFR Cluj 1-3 Roma: Giallorossi Back in the Driver Seat (UEFA Champions League 2008-09)

Roma seem to have taken a fondness for 3-1 wins lately. After Bordeaux and Chelsea, CFR Cluj was the third team Wednesday to fall to the hands of Spalletti’s boys in Europe, enabling the Giallorossi to take sole command of Group A with one match to go.

And indeed that last match against Bordeaux will be determining to seal Roma’s fate: a draw would ensure their mathematical qualification to the next round, but with the first spot of the group on the line, even better would be for them to win.

But speaking of Roma wins, now that is something no man with a sane mind would have bet on just a few weeks ago. Roma were losing match after match in the Serie A, and their 1-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge seemed like the final nail in the Champions League coffin, a campaign which had already started with the shocking 2-1 loss to Cluj on matchday 1 and could only seem to get worse. Or so we thought.

Instead Roma recovered, recuperated their captain Francesco Totti, and they are back. Alive & kickin’! And kicking is what they did today.

Tactically, Spalletti could count on the recovery of Max Tonetto, but preferred to leave Vucinic (slightly feverish) on the bench in favor of Julio Baptista, occupying the striker position alongside Francesco Totti. Right behind the pair, Simone Perrotta was promoted to a pseudo-playmaker role (I say “pseudo” because we all know Perrotta’s specialty isn’t exactly his feet skills).

But play-make he did. Exploiting a good deep pass by Cassetti in minute 11, the Roma midfielder broke through the Cluj defensive lines and delivered (with some help by the Romanian keeper) an unmissable open-net chance for Matteo Brighi. And speaking of Brighi, here’s another one of those Roma players which (during the team’s frequent ups & downs this season) is starting to become a real positive constant for Spalletti. 1-0 Roma.

An early goal was really the best way for Roma to break the ice (and I mean litterally: it was -4ºC in Transylvania tonight), and things got from good to better just 12 minutes later, when Francesco Totti donned his free-kick boots and put an unstoppable curler past goalkeeper Eduard Stancioiu. 2-0 Roma.

This really didn’t sit well with the home team, who had already come close to scoring a few minutes before the second goal, but had seen Eugen Trica’s effort from litterally 5 yards miss wide of the post. Cluj started pushing forward, and eventually reduced Roma’s lead after a shot by Alvaro Pereira was deflected by Doni right into the path of Yssouf Koné. The Burkinabé striker had no problem smashing his header into the ground to beat the Roman keeper, 2-1 before the break.

In the second half, Spalletti’s half-time speech must have had effects, because the team that stepped back onto the pitch was the attentive and realistic Roma of the first half-hour. Aside from an immediate chance for Koné (header wide) the match was an open affair, with the Giallorossi stuggling to impose their technical superiority and Cluj struggling to penetrate their opponents’ end of the pitch (but at the same time being careful to close down all the spaces in their own half). It seemed Roma was satisfied with staying in control and not much more, and that was all that was needed to get the three points out of this game.

So it was really a bonus when in minute 64, Matteo Brighi gathered an assist from Taddei (set up by who else but Totti), trapped the ball with his left foot and scored a powerful shot with his right. 3-1 Roma and the victory on ice. Following their convincing relaunch in the championship, the Giallorossi showed they were back on track in Europe as well. In two weeks’ time, a win on the final UCL matchday would also ensure that for the first time ever in the competition’s history, Roma would enjoy the full privileges bestowed on 1st-ranked teams.

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CFR Cluj
CLUJ-ROMA
1-3
[Match Highlights]
A.S. Roma
GOALSCORERS: 11′ Brighi (R), 23′ Totti (R), 30′ Y.Koné (C), 64’ Brighi (R).
CLUJ (4-2-3-1): Stancioiu – Panin, Cadù, De Sousa, Pereira – Dani (73’ Peralta), Muresan – Juan Culio, Trica (84’ Deac), Dubarbier (70’ E.Koné) – Y.Koné. (bench: Claro, Alcantara, Diego Ruiz). Coach: Trombetta.
ROMA (4-3-2-1): Doni – Cassetti, Mexes, Juan, Tonetto (86’ Riise) – Taddei, De Rossi, Brighi – Perrotta (90’ D.Pizarro), J.Baptista – Totti (81’ Vucinic). (bench: Artur, Loria, Menez, Montella). Coach: Spalletti.

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