Roma through to Europa League knockout stage after beating Viktoria Plzen

Corriere dello Sport (Guido D’Ubaldo) Roma qualified for the knockout phase of the Europa League by finishing top of Group E with a game to spare. The star of last night was Edin Dzeko, scorer of a priceless hat-trick, his first in a Giallorosso shirt, while Perotti added to the 4-1 scoreline with a magical rabona. The Bosnian increased his haul for the season to 15 goals, 5 of which have now come in the Europa League. Roma have the best attack in the competition after Shakhtar, and have scored 4 goals against all 3 opponents in their group – as well as scoring 4 goals another 3 times in the league. Even so, Spalletti’s team encountered a few difficulties in the first half and went in level at half time after once again making a defensive error. However they were at their best in the second half against the Czechs, who are now out of the Europa League.

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Spalletti kept De Rossi (and Perotti) on the bench, giving the captain’s armband to Nainggolan after inviting him to participate in a press conference on the eve of the game in order to put an end to the controversies from last Sunday. Last minute injuries to Manolas and El Shaarawy forced the coach’s hand, not allowing him to rotate the squad as much as he wanted. There were 11 foreigners on the pitch at the start, for the first time this season, with just 1 Italian on the bench: Spalletti was counting on personal motivations in order to make the disaster at Bergamo a distant memory.

Roma started off with the right mentality and with the intention of achieving qualification with a game to spare, in order to make the last game – a trip to Bucharest on 8th December to play Astra Giurgiu – a dead rubber. On 10 minutes, Dzeko – given the ball by Nainggolan – made some space for himself after turning past Kovarik and scored a goal from an impossible position. Francesco Totti, watching the game from the stands, looked on admiringly. After taking the lead relatively easily, Roma had chances to make the result safe, but the midfield of Strootman and Paredes weren’t providing much resistance and Viktoria Plzen, who are performing excellently in the league and are currently top, were able to cause problems of their own. The equaliser came just 8 minutes later. The Czechs found space in the middle of the pitch with 4 Giallorossi players caught ahead of the ball, and Kovarik’s cross – which Bruno Peres made no attempt to prevent – picked out the pink-haired Zeman who leapt to meet it while Fazio stood still. The ball ended up in Alisson’s bottom left hand corner. Roma had to start all over again, and they weren’t able to retake the lead in the first half despite Dzeko’s inspired evening – even though he missed 3 very presentable chances, he also often dropped deeper to help his team-mates construct another attack. Roma were level at half time, although they were nearly ahead just before the break when Salah hit the post after forcing the defence into a mistake and getting a shot away.

At the start of the second half it was Paredes who hit the woodwork when a free kick from the edge of the box hit the crossbar. Roma were on the attack again, though it wasn’t always as smooth as it needed to be. It was Dzeko again who scored their second goal, catching Viktoria’s defence unprepared to head Rudiger’s deep cross past the keeper. At that point the Czechs were trying to find another equaliser, and Roma were able to try and play on the counter. Salah missed another 2 chances, but the goal that sealed the game came after 37 minutes of the 2nd half, this time from Perotti who had come on a few minutes before. It was a fantastic rabona that ended up in the back of the net after taking a slight deflection off Mateju. The goal killed off Viktoria, but there was still time for Dzeko to complete his hat-trick when he converted a cross from Perotti.

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