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Roma Draw Wolfsberger 2-2, Advance to Knockout Stages

This wasn't a Chamber of Commerce day for Roma, but they did just enough to get through to the next round.

AS Roma v Wolfsberger AC: Group J - UEFA Europa League Photo by MB Media/Getty Images

Needing only a result to advance to the knockout stages of the Europa League, and dealing with some minor injuries on the squad depth front, Paulo Fonseca did a bit of tinkering to his starting XI. With Pau Lopez still dealing with a knock, Antonio Mirante was given another start in goal, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Cengiz Ünder, Alessandro Florenzi and Diego Perotti each received rare starts. And nearly all those new faces factored in today's result.

This wasn't the most stressful match Roma has ever undertaken, but they sure played it fast and loose. Roma caught the first stroke of luck, earning a penalty in the seventh minute when Edin Dzeko was taken down in the area. Diego Perotti, as he's known to do from time to time, slotted home the penalty attempt cool as you like.

But...the pendulum of luck quickly swung back towards Wolsfberger moments later when Florenzi—the man who can least afford to do this—scored an own goal, “beating” Mirante to the low corner. Considering they only needed a result to advance, it wasn't as cataclysmic as your typical own goal, but it was certainly a sizeable ding in Florenzi's case for more playing time.

Roma wouldn't leave it to luck on their second goal, which will be one for the Fonseca Football scrapbook when all is said and done.

Edin Dzeko: 19th Minute (Roma 2, Wolfsberger 1)

An absolutely beautiful three-touch move here finished off by Edin Dzeko, but I want you to turn your attention to Amadou Diawara, who started this all off with a silky smooth pass to Diego Perotti from some 30-yards out. The angle on that replay doesn't do it justice—this pass glided past two Wolfsberger defenders—but Diawara had the angle played perfectly, and good on Perotti too for holding off and setting up Dzeko with the easier shot.

Wolfsberger would pull one back moments later, but their would-be equalizer was disallowed due to an offside call, but this match was WIDE OPEN at this point; defense was merely a concept through the first half hour.

That end-to-end wanton disregard for defense continued throughout the remainder of the match, as both sides kept the pedal to metal in the second half. Roma kept throwing men forward in the opening 15 minutes or so of the second half, leaving themselves susceptible at the other end.

Wolfsberger very nearly pulled a second one back in the 62nd minute but were denied by Antonio Mirante's miraculous stretch save, an effort so unexpected and so forceful that it injured Roma's number two keeper, as Mirante gave way to Pau Lopez, clutching his shoulder as he walked off—Mirante got up on this save and fell equally hard after parrying the ball away, so let’s hope for the best.

In situations such as these, it's imperative to get the new keeper a touch as soon as possible. Being unexpectedly thrown into a match is tough for any player but doubly so for a keeper.

Unfortunately for Lopez, his first touch was pulling the ball out of the back of the net after Shon Weissman buried a header past him in 63rd minute. There wasn't really much Lopez (or even Mirante for that matter) could have done, this goal was conceived in the midfield, when Mkhitaryan foolish tried to dribble past a glut of Wolfsberger midfielders, resulting in the unexpected breakaway goal.

Fonseca would counter by pulling off the ineffective Ünder for Nicolo Zaniolo, hoping to spark a conclusive third goal. With the other match in Group J knotted at one apiece, Roma were still safe at the moment, but leaving things to chance on the final matchday is seldom a good idea.

The dying moments of the match saw each side scrambling to find a goal, one which took on greater importance with the news that Istanbul took the lead against Borussia MGB. I have no idea if the players on the pitch at the Olimpico knew it, but it certainly made for some interesting viewing down the stretch, as Wolfsberger goal would have sent them through and Roma home (I mean, they were already technically home, but you get it).

Edin Dzeko had a few late cracks at the Wolfsberger goal, including a dead-center effort off a Florenzi volley, but he just couldn't find the back of the net.

In the end the match remained deadlocked at two, but that solitary point was enough to push Roma through to the knockout stages.

Random Thoughts & Observations

  • At this point, we can quibble about the merits of winning the Europa League all we want, but Roma have a legitimate shot at winning this thing, and for a title starved club with a new manager, this could be an inflection point for Fonseca Football.
  • Again, kudos to Antonio Mirante. You couldn’t create a better second-choice keeper in a lab if you wanted. Experience, athleticism and commitment for days—Mirante has it all. I say keep him around till he retires.
  • I'm not sure what's gotten into Cengiz Ünder this season, but he's been a shadow of his former self. We used to fear that he'd move to Bayern Munich for tens of millions, but at this point, I'm not sure people will be beating down Roma's door for him.
  • But, he's still perhaps Roma's most dangerous player, gifted with superior agility and a wicked shot. I hope he'll come good, but he's fallen out of favor rather quickly.
  • The winter transfer market opens soon, and if you've seen Roma's defenders not named Smalling or Mancini play, I think you can guess what might be on Petrachi's shopping list, ditto for a backup to Dzeko.

Next Up

Home vs. SPAL 2013 on Sunday.