Real Madrid (1) v AS Roma (2)
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The Big One. The scudetto race is back on, apparently, but everybody and their sister knows Champions League is the big daddy of the trophy cabinet. This game decides whether Roma has a shot or is another one watching from home. And now, with Milan licking their wounds from the sidelines, Lazio doing a whole lot of nothin' and Inter having a steep uphill climb.....the hopes of the boot likely lie with our fair Giallorossi. (No pressure, though.)
In all fairness, the first game was 1-0 with two deflections evening things out. Problem is, one of those deflections was The Almighty Away Goal for Real Madrid. Bad news. Real controlled much of the game, but Roma did well absorbing much of the pressure and preventing a second goal - though the fellas got extremely tired at the end of the game and had the entire fanbase's hearts breaking speed records.
Arjen Robben ran the left wing ragged all while his hairline receded another 5cm during the game. He's now out, of course. Rumor is he was healthy too long, started going through withdrawals, flew back to England and had his knee wrenched by an Asian hooker in a 2 for 1 along with the Fergie-lite blowdryer treatment - but that's just the rumor (you'd be shocked what passes for a hooker in Manchester these days, just asked the entire United front line). So that's nice. Robinho and his 12 year old self is back, though, so we can essentially call this one a wash.
Sergio 'HAB' Ramos is also out because his hair isn't of the proper sexiness and there's no way in hell he can be seen on the European stage like that. (Alright, he's had one too many yellows.) Sneijder, Drenthe and RVN are also doubtful or out, and when you add this to Robben's injury, it's quite clear there's an anti-Dutch feel on the Real Madrid medical staff. Bigots.
Roma, on the other hand, are missing only Marco Cassetti through suspension. They've got a couple of banged up South Americans in Juan and David Pizarro, but both will probably see at least some time on the pitch. So that's fantastic news for Roma going in, during a season which has seen the bodies being stacked up outside the medical tent.
With Real bruised and battered, Roma going in with the lead....we'll just say things could be worse.
Either team wins by more than 2 goals they go through. Any draws, Roma goes through. Topically it's an edge going in, but it's much more complicated than that.
1 GIANLUCA CURCI
2 CHRISTIAN PANUCCI
3 CICERO JOAO DE CEZARE (CICINHO)
4 JUAN SILVEIRA DOS SANTOS
5 PHILIPPE MEXES
7 DAVID MARCELO CORTES PIZARRO
8 ALBERTO AQUILANI
9 MIRKO VUCINIC
10 FRANCESCO TOTTI
11 RODRIGO FERRANTE TADDEI
14 LUDOVIC GIULY
15 VITORINO GABRIEL PACHECO ANTUNES
16 DANIELE DE ROSSI
18 MAURO ESPOSITO
20 SIMONE PERROTTA
21 MATTEO FERRARI
22 MAX TONETTO
25 CARLO ZOTTI
27 JULIO SERGIO BERTAGNOLI
30 MANCINI ALESSANDRO FAIOLHE AMANTINO
32 DONIEBER ALEXANDER MARANGON (DONI)
33 MATTEO BRIGHI
Porteros: Casillas y Dudek.
Defensas: Cannavaro, Marcelo, Pepe, Salgado, Heinze y Torres.
Centrocampistas: Diarra, Guti, Gago, Baptista, Drenthe y Balboa.
Delanteros: Higuaín, Robinho, Soldado y Raúl.
Roma: Zero. Though Marco Cassetti is suspended.
RM: The Dutch Contingent + Metzelder & Saviola.
And Royston Drenthe is in the squad, but supposedly doubtful. However, Ruud being out changes things up a bit....who the hell knows.
Panucci, Mexes, Juan, Tonetto;
Taddei, Perrotta, Mancini;
I'm going for reverse psychology on the second DP spot. I suspect this lineup will be borderline safe.
Salgado; Canna, Pepe, Marcelo;
Baptista, Diarra, Guti;
Higuain, Raul, Robinho.
I have not a freakin' clue. Feel free to tear that thing apart.
Robinho v Roma's RB: Whether it's OMR or Cicinho, this is the matchup of the day. We saw Arjen Robben go all kinds of bananas on OMR during the first leg, and there's nothing to say he wouldn't have done the same against either Marco Cassetti or Cicinho. Ditto for Robino, who has been Real's best player this season (from what I've heard) and can dazzle with the best of 'em. Neither is really an ideal matchup for Robby (Cicinho needs some better defensing ability and OMR needs a Vespa with NOX), so they'll have to either bring out their golden defending booties or get some help...maybe even a little bit of both.
David Pizarro's Ball On A Fraying Yo-Yo String v Roma: Self-explanatory. Giveaways will be the death knell for this team.
Philippe Mexes v Philippe Mexes: I love Philou, he is a fantastic player, an intensely passionate Romanista and one of my favorite players to don the shirt....but he's entering Gennaro Gattuso territory for me. What I mean is that every time I see him go into a play I have to turn away, avert my eyes or get ready to yell "what the hell are you doing - put down the referee", because he's always a centimeter away from a red card. A red card here would be absolutely disastrous. Keep it calm.
Il Capitano v El Capitan: Raul, as he proved in the first leg, is a European beast of the highest order. I know it was a deflection, but a part of me wonders if there isn't some sort of pact he has with somebody, either up or downstairs, who makes CL goals happen out of nowhere. Four in seven this year, and he's as dangerous as ever at the Bernabeu in European action. Robinho may be their phenomenon, but sometimes talent and form can take a backseat.
Speaking of talent, there's another talismanic captain in the house who happens to score an occasional goal or twenty. After being an nonfactor in nearly all of February, it's two in two for Francesco (two very, very nice goals as well), and his timing couldn't be better. Yeah, Roma will be alright when he rides off into calcio's sunset, but until that happens in 2072, he is still the leader, the maestro and the machine that keeps this team performing at its highest levels. With Totti getting healthy, hitting his stride and bagging goals again, this Roma team is an entirely different animal than the one which hosted Real Madrid two weeks ago. They're bigger, they're meaner, they're stronger, they're faster and they're better. They'll need to be to get a similar result, but it's now a much less daunting task. In Il Capitano we trust.
(That last one goes along with MOTM.)
Add together the first leg victory with the Inter performance, the Parma goal explosion and even the Napoli victory and the confidence must be soaring in the visitors locker room. As long as they can withstand some early pressure (as with the first leg) and maintain at least an even scoreline, it should do nothing but continue to rise throughout the game - and as we all know, this team is just as much about mentality as anything else. Considering the wave they're riding, it should be enough to see them through to the knockouts, though it won't be easy.
Goals: Totti (34), Raul (54)
MOTM: DDR (It's a safe bet these days.)
When: 2045 CET, 1445 EST
Where: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.
Forecast: Clear, 8°C.
Liveblog: Yup, starting early with probably another pseudo-preview of sorts.