Like any new venture, no one was quite sure (at least among the layperson) what to expect from Betty Bavagnoli’s Roma side: Will they attack or sit back? What formation would they play? Are they wing obsessed, too? Would they also throw Nicolo Zaniolo to the wolves? All jokes aside, there wasn’t much, if any, prevailing wisdom heading into this match, making for quite an interesting and exciting viewing experience.
While I’ve watched the Women’s World Cup every four years, and the intermittent NWSL match, this was my first experience watching Women’s Serie A, and no disrespect to the people of Sassuolo, but I hope when the Giallorosse make their home debut, the people of Rome put on a better show than their Reggio Emilia counterparts; this was an exciting match and deserved the same from the crowd.
But I digress, on to the match itself....
Bavagnoli rolled out what appeared to be a pretty balanced 4-3-3 formation with Agnese Bonfantini and Annamaria Serturini flanking Martina Piemonte up top with a midfield of Giada Greggi, Claudia Ciccotti and Manuela Coluccini. At the back, captain Elisa Bartoli was joined by Emma Lipman, Federica Di Criscio and Angelica Soffia, with Rosalia Pipitone in between the sticks. Lots of Italians on this team, gotta love that.
The match started off well enough, with the attack flowing through the middle, but in true Roma fashion they were done in by a twist of fate; an early penalty awarded to Sassuolo, which was summarily converted, putting Roma in an early hole. Sassuolo would double their lead later in the first half, when the Giallorosse backline was torn asunder by a Modric-like through ball that left them powerless to recover.
Roma nearly pulled one back late in the first half in a rather strange series of events. After shaking a defender and catching the keeper out of position, Piemonte had a golden chance to cut Sassuolo’s lead in half, only to push the ball wide of the post; it was eerily reminiscent of that Maicon-GIF-inducing miss by Edin Dzeko a few years ago—she absolutely should have buried that one no questions asked. However, mere seconds later she had another chance, but her shot caromed off the post and skirted helplessly along the goal line before being snatched up.
It was a frustrating sequence, but nevertheless a signal of intent from Roma, who now had a two goal deficit to erase in the second half. The Giallorosse would cut the lead in half thanks to a PK of their own. With Soffia cutting in from the right, dragging a defender along the end-line in the process, she was able to center the ball to Bonfantini, who was quickly cut down by the defense. Serturini quickly converted the PK to bring Roma back within one.
Sassuolo would add another goal after the hour mark, temporarily putting the match well out of reach, but Roma continued to press throughout the half, working the ball through to Piemonte, who finally found her goal in the 81st minute, tapping in a slowly rolling cross to pull Roma back within one goal.
Unfortunately, that was all she wrote, as Roma were unable to grab a late equalizer despite the five minutes added time.
Again, I hesitate to draw any big picture judgments here, given that this was literally their first ever match, but despite the final score there is a lot to like about this team. We’ll start with the obvious: Agnese Bonfantini is a star in the making. She’s tall, agile, athletic and creative; every time she touched the ball, you just got the feeling that she was milliseconds away from doing something special. She has the speed to blow past defenders out wide and the intuition, creativity and close control to do damage in the box as well; she is an awful lot like Alex Morgan, so if you’re looking for AS Roma Femminile’s matinee idol, she’s it.
And speaking of speed, Roma appears to have that in spades, particularly with Giada Greggi who, despite not being the most imposing figure on the squad, was carving up the Sassuolo defense, tearing holes through their midfield and backline. Between Greggi, Bonfantini and Serturini, Roma shouldn’t suffer for scoring chances.
Piemonte, despite the stunning miss in the first half, was a bright spot for the Roma women. Although it was only one match, she showed an ability to play with her back to the goal, holding up play as you’d expect a forward to do, but when she was able to turn and face the keeper, she showed some surprising agility and seems capable of making those quick jab steps to create shooting space. It’s almost as if Piemonte and Bonfantini were created in a lab to play together; if they can iron out that chemistry, they should be great complements to one another.
And of course there was the captain, Bartoli. It didn’t take long to see why she earned that armband, as she was almost instantly barking out orders from her left back spot, and once the run of play really got going, she was making forward runs, overlapping with Serturini to keep Sassuolo at bay.
So, while Roma weren’t able to walk away winners, they have all the makings of an exciting side and, in Bonfantini, may have a star in the making.
The Roma women will make their home debut next Saturday against Tavagnacco.