Much to their chagrin, the powers that be declared that Roma must play their quarterfinal match against the lower seeded Fiorentina on the road. Two clubs currently riding two game losing streaks collide Wednesday with a trip to the semifinals of the Coppa Italia in the balance.
This being Roma, this otherwise banal (depending on your valuation of domestic cups) match is replete with controversy. Roma, having finished ahead of the Viola last year, would normally have the benefit of the being the home side in this match. However, due to Lazio also reaching the quarter finals and defeating that same Catania side 3-0 last Tuesday at the Olimpico, Roma cannot, by rule, play this match on the same grounds because the matches occurred "concurrently".
Franco Baldini, ever the pragmatic gentleman, took his appeal to a higher court, the FIGC Court of Justice to be exact, an oxymoron if there ever was one, and was quickly rebuked. Despite their being eight days of lag time, the matches were still deemed to be concurrent, meaning Roma has to play this fixture on the road, their third straight match away from Rome. The Silver Star won't come easy.
Adding further difficulty to this fixture will be the absence of Francesco Totti, who is out with a lingering thigh issue, which may or may not cost him Sunday's match against Inter. Without their 36-year old lynchpin, the entire Roman attack has often seemed listless and misdirected; a disparity likely to magnified against an opponent as formidable as Fiorentina. No Totti, No Party will surely be put to the test.
Despite the malaise that has suddenly engulfed the club, you might remember that Roma dispatched of Fiorentina quite handily little more than a month ago. That six goal thriller was spearheaded by Leandro Castan's seventh minute goal and trumpeted by two Totti braces and one goal for good measure from Pablo Osvaldo. That was also Roma's fourth consecutive win to that point, a streak which came to a calamitous end against Chievo a week later. Fortunately, Fiorentina also find themselves mired in a mini-losing streak, having lost consecutive matches against Pescara and Udinese, respectively. Two torpid squads enter, one will leave victorious.
This recent quote from Zeman, though given in the wake of the Catania match, surmises the current state of affairs rather succinctly:
What am I most angry about? The fact that the final step was never successful. Actually, we created a lot in the first half but we never managed to capitalise on the chances we created. Could this defeat cause problems for our self-confidence in the future? It could be a problem. But we're Roma and we have to continue fighting. After a good first half our play was too individual and static in the second, even before we let in their goal.
Losing two straight matches, particularly given the run of form they had been on previously, was bad enough, more worrisome is the manner in which they've lost. Having been outscored 5-2 the past two weeks, the attacking zeal, not to mention precision in all facets of the attack, seems to have gone astray. That undefinable, yet unmistakable quality for which Zeman's teams are known just hasn't been there. Whether it's the squandered chances in front of goal or the seeming lack of synchronicity that leads to those chances, something ain't right in Roma.
Zeman's assessment might be accurate; the most deleterious effect on the squad may be psychological. Taking the pitch knowing you can score on anyone at virtually any moment is something that reverberates in both dressing rooms, providing Roma with a subtle mental advantage. Much of that advantage stemmed from the midfield, knowing they could pick the ball up anywhere and quickly feed it to the forwards, defense to attack in the blink of an eye. So it should come as no surprise that the decline in this instant offense has gone hand-in-hand with the performance of the midfield. As they go, so goes Roma.
For much of this season, we've spoken about the Roma that might be, what they will achieve when they have more money, how high they'll climb once the youth realizes their potential and how they'll occupy the rarified air of Europe's elites. Rather than speculating about the future, we should be asking whether or not the constant focus on the future is forsaking the present; Has our collective reach exceeded our current grasp?
In some senses, it seems many fans, and I'm as guilty as any, have taken this season for granted, assuming the collective names and pedigrees on the squad would segue easily into our glorious future. However, the fact remains that Roma are currently a sixth place club, a floundering one some might say.Given the collective experience and general tumult surrounding the project on and off the pitch, did we ever have a right to expect greater than that?
The actual results of this Coppa fixture are rather immaterial to the matters of the day, instead of dreaming of what Roma might be, we need to accept them for what they are and question what needs to be done to move the club onward and upwards. So while you can quibble about the merits or importance of domestic cups, the product on the field is always indicative of the clubs broader aims and philosophy, so in that sense, much can be gleaned from this match.
Plus, adding that Silver Star would be pretty sweet.