Roma 1-0 Arsenal: Hero-Mode Isn’t Enough, Giallorossi Beaten on Penalties (UEFA Champions League Round of 16, Second Leg)

AS Roma defender Max Tonetto, left reacts after missing to score as Arsenal players celebrate during the penalties shootout of the Champions League round of 16 second leg soccer match between AS Roma and Arsenal at Rome's Olympic stadium, Wednesday, March 11, 2009. Arsenal beat AS Roma 7-6 in a penalty shootout to reach the Champions League quarterfinals. (AP Photo)

Compared to their Italian rivals, Roma‘s stay in the UEFA Champions League lasted just a little bit longer: 30 extra minutes + a peanuts for spot kicks. Not a whole lot to be proud of, for at sundown the end result is the same: like Juve and Inter, the Giallorossi are leaving Europe and going home.

Unlike Bianconeri and Nerazzurri however (and all things considered), Roma are those who had the biggest chance of qualification ultimately, and also those who perhaps will have the most regrets at the end of the night. To quote Gazzetta, “they put their hearts, their bandages, their minds and their will into this match… everything they had.” It wasn’t enough. Once again this year the English “evil” proved to be stronger: it wasn’t a colossal 7-1 slap at the Theatre of Dreams, it was a penalty elimination at the hands of Arsenal. Same difference.

Once again, it’s Italian football as a whole that’s taken a beating.

UEFA Champions League 2008-09 - Roma vs. Arsenal

UEFA Champions League 2008-09 - Round of 16, Second Leg - Roma 1-0 Arsenal

Tactically, Luciano Spalletti had to carefully weave through his injury hurdles and presented a 4-4-2 starting eleven: Totti & Vucinic up front, David Pizarro recuperating and taking his center-mid place alongside Brighi. At the back, a fever blocked Mexès who was replaced by Diamoutene. On the other end Wenger replied with a one-striker (Van Persie) line-up, with many of the young Gunner elements to provide support.

As the match started, every Giallorosso fan at the Olimpico was worried about one thing and one thing only: how were Totti and Juan going to hold up? Il capitano looked like he could manage; the impressions for the Brazilian center-back were less reassuring. After breaking down an Arsenal attacking move with style, Juan immediately had to leave the field in the 5th minute, angrily kicking a ball into touch to allow the Roma doctors take a look at his weakened muscles. The thought on everyone’s mind was: “there he goes; now he’ll have to come off.” However before throwing the towel, Juan stayed on the pitch for some twenty more minutes, even finding the important aggregate equalizing goal in minute 9, receiving a low cross from the left side by Totti. 1-0 Roma.

AS Roma's Juan (C) celebrates after scoring as Arsenal's Nicklas Bendtner (R) watches during their Champions League soccer match at the Olympic stadium in Rome March 11, 2009.  (Reuters)

The match changed. Wenger had lined up the same people from the Emirates first leg, but this time his 4-2-3-1 line-up just wasn’t working, not even when Julio Baptista stepped on to replace Juan and the Giallorossi were forced to field a surreal Diamoutene-Riise pair as center-backs. During the entire first half, the Gunners produced very little: Nasri was kept constantly in check and Van Persie only had only one close chance with a weak header.

In fact, the best chance to score was once again for Roma, as Manuel Almunia was forced to a double save on Motta and Taddei. Then, just moments before the half-time, came the incident that sent the entire stadium into an angry frenzy: Totti opened a deep pass for Motta, who was put off balance by Clichy inside the area. No penalty was referee’s Mejuto González decision, not exactly scandalous given the replay images (then again, awarding the spot-kick wouldn’t have been outrageous either) but a non-call which certainly changed the course of the match.

Arsenal's (L to R) Manuel Almunia, Denilson, Kolo Toure and Theo Walcott celebrate at the end of the Champions League soccer match against AS Roma at the Olympic stadium in Rome March 11, 2009. (REUTERS)

The second half began on an even higher note: two dangerous efforts by Totti from outside the area were followed by a quick Arsenal counterattack, and it was good thing (for Roma) that Eboué’s pass to Van Persie was a bit too long. The Gunners started putting the pressure on, scaring Doni with chances by Nasri (header) and Diaby (shot) wide. Minutes went by, increasing the fear of letting a goal in: Wenger decided to play the Theo Walcott card, but it was actually Roma who missed a fantastic match-winner, courtesy of Julio Baptista (much like any other ball that was played to him today, the Brazilian forward botched a good Totti cross from the right wing).

Thus, the suffering continued into extra time, right after Van Persie and Touré had one final opportunity each to cause a general heart-attack in the stadium. The first 15 minutes went by without much suspense, except for a wasted effort by Van Persie from a good position. The same applied to the second overtime period: Doni blocked a low shot from Walcott, Totti’s effort from outside the box was wide, leading the teams to the dreaded penalty shoot-out (for which Spalletti even inserted specialist Vincenzo Montella in lieu of Brighi). Tension played tricks on the players when Eduardo (great save by Doni) and Vucinic (awful execution) missed their shots from the spot. The first round of five penalty kicks was not enough to settle the score and at the end, Tonetto gave in to nerves and sent Roma’s kick nº7 miles over the bar. The Giallorossi played their hearts out but like Juve and Inter, they too were out of Europe.

AS Roma's Francesco Totti and Alberto Aquilani (R) react at the end of their Champions League soccer match against Arsenal at the Olympic stadium in Rome March 11, 2009. Arsenal won the match. (REUTERS)


A.S. Roma
1-0 (1-1 agg, 7-8 p.s.o.)
[Match Highlights]
 Arsenal F.C.
PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Eduardo (A) saved, D.Pizarro (R) goal, Van Persie (A) goal, Vucinic (R) saved, Walcott (A) goal, J.Baptista (R) goal, Nasri (A) goal, Montella (R) goal, Denilson (A) goal, Totti (R) goal, K.Touré (A) goal, Aquilani (R) goal, Sagna (A) goal, Riise (R) goal, Diaby (A) goal, Tonetto (R) wide.
ROMA (4-4-2): Doni – Motta, Diamoutene, Juan (28’ J.Baptista), Riise – Taddei (93’ Aquilani), Brighi (119’ Montella), D.Pizarro, Tonetto – Totti, Vucinic. (bench: Artur, Filipe, Loria, Menez). Coach: Spalletti.
ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): Almunia – Sagna, K.Touré, Gallas, Clichy – Diaby, Denilson – Eboué (74’ Walcott), Nasri, Bendtner (85’ Eduardo) – Van Persie. (bench: Fabianski, Djourou, A.Song, Gibbs, Vela). Coach: Wenger.


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Posted in English Premiership, Roma, UEFA Champions League |

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