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A Very Roman Victory

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SOCCER-ITALY/

Roma 2 - Cagliari 1

It was there for the taking, the world waiting to confirm Roma's Ranieri rise as nothing more than a short-lived anomaly. They would once again cower back into their mental shell, collapsing when it mattered most, throwing away points against smaller teams, and failing to be the machine required for glory. This was the Roma ending to the storybook plot begging, the final dagger thrust inward, with no one else to blame.

He had other ideas. Roman ideas.

The game had an all too familiar feel in the first half, knocking the ball about as though it were a playground, making runs like a man we once knew was reflecting on the sidelines, no greater example needed than Marco Motta's teasingly throwing a "Hey, look what I can do!" wondergoal at the post as if on purpose. A five goal halftime lead wouldn't have flattered. Statistically, Cagliari's first shot came in the sixtieth minute. They had everything. Except for the goal.

And then came the letdown. Or maybe it wasn't a letdown. There are many theories, and one of them would be Ranieri wanted to draw out the opposition in a too often clogged center of play, thus affording more space. Whatever it was, it didn't work. They hadn't quit, as it only lasted for a bit, but it was eerily reminiscent of the old Roma, the blackout Roma, the Roma which would go down 1-0 on one of a few chances in a game in which they were vastly superior, but had simply forgotten to score. Then Lazarri came, fate seeming all too familiar, the season not yet in flames, but the gasoline had been poured and the match struck. Only one thing had been forgotten...

This isn't the Roma we once knew. Mentally it's not even a distant relative of the Roma we once knew: it's Ranieri's Roma. They'd done it before, notably against Cagliari in this very same fixture last year, but a pattern has been emerging this season which can't be ignored. Juve, Siena, Lazio, Fiorentina - they win games late when they have to, when you think they're dead in the water. No one's perfect, and they've reflected that, but this was another Ranieri classic: doing that which needs to be done.

Francesco played the hero and he deserves his due, but Claudio laid the groundwork.

Sounds familiar, eh?

Notes:

  • And this time, he had to make the early subs down a goal. This time, they worked.

    Largely because Cagliari ain't quite Sampdoria, and also because he made the right tactical move: pulling off Luca for Rodrigo.

  • Everyone is, or was, talking about The Miss, but if you noticed, he was a hair offside, so he did the only honorable thing.

    He's that good.

  • Or was The Miss from Menez? Totti will be fine, from now until the end of time, but Menez could use some shootin' practice over the summer.
  • The defense on That Wall was deplorable. Their next move is to jolt back to 1945 Berlin in a time capsule with a sign which says Welcome, Russia!.
  • I thought Bergonzi was largely good. Outside of the penalty area.

    I wasn't entirely sure Riise had earned a penalty until Biondini admitted it hit his arm, which means we can laugh heartily at Michele Canini's double dribble. It was something like a double amputee's impersonation of Titi Henry.

  • That was a definite penalty on Juan, which from the angle looks like Bergonzi played advantage - and a decent advantage it was, 8 yards from net. That Jeda missed is astonishing.

    However, I sometimes think Juan is so phenomenally good and smooth in the tackle he gets calls - or rather doesn't get calls - based on reputation, much like Jeremy doesn't get calls based on his reputation of being a Pavel Nedved pants. (Or was - he's not perfect, but he's made leaps and bounds.)

    So in summation, let's just call Juan "MJ circa 1996" and be done with it.

  • John Arne Riise. John. Arne. Riise.

    I just don't know. No one, and I mean no one, deserves to play the final game more than John. Or Yawn. The man has been run out, week-in, week-in, week-in, week-out, beyond the point of fatigue, and beyond the point of reasonable expectation. He's played 345 more minutes in the league than the next Roman, Daniele, which is almost four full games. Four. I suspect that gap would increase greatly were cup competitons factored in.

    For most of the season he had no backup, which means even if he got hurt, he might not have had a choice but to go out and run it off. Not perfect, but without him, without his never ending engine and spell of heroics in the winter, they wouldn't be here. On Sunday, they have a chance for title glory. John will not be there, suspended on four yellow cards in 3083 minutes.

    It's an unthinkable stroke of bad luck. A heavy reminder that the gods show no mercy, and that though the old Roma may be largely gone, her presence still lingers.

And with that, I leave you with this:

On September 1st, Luciano Spalletti resigned from last place; on Sunday, the final Sunday, they will play with the scudetto on the line.