Roma lost their Champions League playoff and, crucially, lost their heads as they played against Porto with 9 men from the 51st minute in a match worth €30m. It is a failure that unfortunately means two things: 1) the inadequate impact on the international stage of the club built by Pallotta and Sabatini; 2) the inability of the squad to distinguish between the determination required on the pitch and violent and pointless fouls which, at this level, will not be tolerated.
Last year Roma, under Garcia, reached the last 16 of the Champions League following the jeers and whistles of the Olimpico after the 0-0 draw at home to BATE Borisov. This year things went much worse: a failure in the playoff round, the fifth Italian side defeated in the last seven seasons after Lazio, Napoli, Udinese (twice) and Sampdoria. Only Milan (against PSV Eindhoven in 2013/14) have qualified in that time. Italy will still have two teams in the group stages (the draw for which is tomorrow): Juventus and Napoli, who, thanks to the Giallorossi’s exit, will receive around €20m each from the market pool. That is another low blow for Roma.
It would be a mistake to blame the referee, the Pole Marciniak, for the two red cards. The fouls were as clear as they were pointless. Just as Vermaelen’s first yellow card was in the first leg. When you play at higher levels, the finer details count all the more. Technical superiority can save you after an ordinary first half against Udinese, but in Europe you need more. And to say that Florenzi is like Dani Alves (Sabatini) or that Paredes is better than Pjanic (Spalletti) doesn’t help these young players avoid subsequent comparisons.
Spalletti tried to replace Vermaelen with a man who could build the play from the back: De Rossi, once more playing in central defence. It could have been a good idea, but after a reasonable start (Nainggolan’s 25-yard shot turned around the post by Casillas’ one-handed save), Roma soon lost the plot. Paredes conceded a needless free kick, Ottavio took the set piece from the left hand side, Juan Jesus was caught napping and Felipe – the same one who scored an own goal in the first leg – took revenge by heading into the gaping net.
It was the 31st time in the last 32 European games that Roma have conceded a goal. In total, they have conceded 69 in that time. These are facts, not opinions. In the 40th minute came the second turning point: De Rossi went in for a very hard and incomprehensible tackle on Maxi Pereira. The ball was close to the corner flag in Porto’s half. A straight red card and Emerson Palmieri was brought on to replace Paredes.
It was in fact Palmieri, a young player who is not without talent but is certainly not at the level required of a Roma side who want to be competitive, who was sent off 6 minutes into the second half for a bad foul in midfield on Corona. Porto seemed almost to be frightened to then be playing with 11 against 9. They didn’t kill off the game and allowed Roma a couple of opportunities which brought the 40,000 fans in the Olimpico to life.
But the Portuguese side’s forwards had acres of space in which to work, and Layun made the most of Szczesny’s unfathomable rush out of his goal and doubled the lead. 3 minutes later Corona sealed the game with a ruthless finish for 3-0. Now all that remains for Roma is the league, after never getting started in the Champions League.
This article is a translation – the original was written by Luca Valdisseri for Il Corriere della Sera.