With as much roster turnover as we’ve experienced in the Italian Capital over the last few years, the last time Roma faced off against Porto in the Champions League feels like it was ages ago. Guess what, it was just two short seasons ago. Roma finished the 2015/16 season in third place with 80 points, two points off the pace of second place Napoli. In those days that meant a Champions League play-off round match to qualify for the 2016/17 Group Stages.
Roma drew Porto from a pot that included Manchester City, Villarreal, Borussia Monchengladbach, and Monaco, among others, for the home-and-home that would take place in August 2016. On paper it seemed like a pretty decent draw for the Giallorossi. However, as should always be expected with Roma, disaster is always a possibility.
Leg One, Porto 1- Roma 1, 8/17/16
The first leg wasn’t pretty but Roma got the job done. Whenever a team goes on the road in an aggregate score home-and-home, an away goal is vital. Roma were able to produce just that early on when Felipe put one into the back of his own net. The Giallorossi were up after just 21 minutes and all seemed to be going according to plan. Edin Dzeko, Mo Salah, and Radja Nainggolan left a few chances begging to that would’ve increased the Roma lead, but all in all, Roma were in control of the match and up at that point the tie.
However, that all changed in the 41st minute, when Thomas Vermaelen picked up his second yellow and was sent to the showers. From there, as is to be expected, the momentum of the match shifted and Porto began to assert themselves. Roma narrowly avoided a goal when Porto were correctly ruled offside early in the second half. Despite it’s best efforts Roma could only hold out so long. Just a short time later, an Emerson hand ball in the box, allowed Andres Silva to tie it from the spot in the 61st.
The Porto onslaught continued, but the Dragons were unable to seriously threaten Alisson’s goal and the match ended 1-1. All in all, it was a good result for Roma. Luciano Spalletti’s side came away with the away goal it was seeking, and was able to escape 50 minutes down a man with a 1-1 draw. Things were optimistic with the tie heading to the Olimpico just six days later.
Leg Two, Roma 0-Porto 3, 8/23/16
That optimism was quickly erased when Porto struck first. Felipe had his revenge, this time heading home the opening goal into the right net. Porto were up 1-0 and 2-1 on aggregate just eight minutes in. Roma had a few good chances and seemed to be pushing for the tying goal when everything came unraveled. Just like in the first leg, Roma were down to ten men when Daniele De Rossi was shown a straight red for an ugly studs up challenge in the 39th minute. The script was then flipped and Roma would be up against it to try and find a goal.
Then just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse for Roma, they did. Just ten minutes after De Rossi’s straight red, Emerson faced a similar fate, and Roma were down a goal and two men. The nine men that remained on the field fought valiantly for Roma, as they continued to push for a goal. Nonetheless, it was always going to take a miracle down two men, one that wasn’t coming. Eventually, the side effects of a numerical disadvantage, tired legs and open spaces, led to Porto hitting twice on the counter in the 73rd and 79th to kill off the tie. Just like that Roma’s Champions League dreams were over before they got started in what would be Francesco Totti’s farewell season.
Exorcising the Demons
Not many players remain from the two-legged disaster from a couple seasons ago. However, those that do remain, especially De Rossi, would love nothing more than to make right the wrongs of August 2016. As fate may have it, he and the rest of Roma have an opportunity to exorcise the demons from that fateful night. The quest begins Tuesday at the scene of crime, none other than the Stadio Olimpico, the place that Roma turned into a fortress last season in the Champions League knock out stages. This time, just like last, Porto seem to be a desirable opponent. However, if Roma are not careful, the Dragons will be tough to slay and when you play with fire you run the risk of getting burned.