Francesco Totti’s 97th minute penalty sets up Rome derby in Coppa Italia semi-final

Corriere dello Sport (Guido D’Ubaldo) Roma left it until the last possible moment to reach the Coppa Italia semi-final. It needed a penalty from Totti, scored in the 7th minute of injury time, to seal the Giallorossi’s qualification to a two-legged tie against Lazio. Roma made life difficult for themselves against Cesena, who are currently in the relegation zone in Serie B, and were on the verge of going to extra time. Camplone’s team troubled the Giallorossi even in the first half, when they hit the post and created more opportunities than Roma. In the second half, after Dzeko had scored the opener, Garritano scored an equaliser and it took a last minute penalty for Roma to win a game that should have been a gimme. Roma looked distracted, particularly in defence where Manolas was a shadow of the player that has previously played so well this season.

Roma - Cesena

Spalletti put 6 starters on the bench, putting Totti in the starting XI for the first time in nearly 2 months. The last time was in the bitter cold of Bucharest on 8th December, in the dead rubber against Astra Giurgiu. Grenier wasn’t on the bench as his transfer had only just gone through. Manolas came back to  lead the defence, after being on the bench against Samp, Mario Rui made his second appearance for the Giallorossi and Paredes, his head clear of transfer rumours, came in to allow De Rossi a rest. Cesena, who have other things to worry about, starting with their battle to avoid relegation to the Lega Pro, didn’t come to the Olimpico to make up the numbers and started competitively, even fighting for position at corners.

Spalletti’s team were stretched out, vast gaps opening up between players, and they allowed Cesena to start to believe in themselves and to hit them on the break. Totti started as a false 9, but soon dropped back into his more familiar position of trequartista after Perotti picked up an injury and was replaced by Dzeko. Meanwhile in defence, mistakes from Manolas and Juan Jesus nearly allowed Cesena to take the lead. Kone hit the post on 25 minutes, and after yet another error by the Greek in the 39th minute only Alisson stopped Rodriguez from scoring. Roma didn’t manage a single shot on target, except for a weak effort from El Shaarawy right at the start of the half. Spalletti’s team were jeered off at half time.

The coach made a switch at half time that changed Roma completely when Nainggolan was brought on for Juan Jesus. Roma switched to a 4-man defence, with Bruno Peres and Mario Rui taking up very advanced positions, and in the 4-3-1-2 the Belgian was technically a midfielder but was constantly looking to make a penetrating run. He was responsible for his team’s first real chance, with a dangerous shot from distance. But Roma had improved as well, they had raised the tempo, and were no longer playing at the slow pace of the first half. Dzeko missed a couple of easy chances before he found the net, scoring the opener in the 23rd minute of the 2nd half when he converted a pass from El Shaarawy, finishing off a quick move that started with Totti.

Did that put any worries about qualification to rest? Not a chance, because Roma only started playing like their true selves for a few minutes after the goal and then stopped again, thinking that the game was already over. Cesena didn’t stop believing in themselves though and found the equaliser just 5 minutes later. An innocuous cross from Balzano was claimed by Alisson, but the keeper dropped the ball as he collided with Manolas and it was an easy task for Garritano to score. Roma had to start all over again, but they continued to look confused in their attacks. Totti went close to scoring a free kick, before virtually the last kick avoided the game going to extra time – in the 7th minute of injury time, Maresca pointed to the penalty spot after Agliardi brought down Strootman. Now it’s the derby in the semi-final.

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