José Mourinho and the rest of the Roma crew didn't need to do more than glance up at the visiting fans’ section for a reminder of what transpired on October 21st. With a sizable Bodø section filling up the Stadio Olimpico with homemade “6-1” signs, reminders of Roma's recent debacle were hard to miss. It wouldn't necessarily take a miracle to erase the memories of that defeat, but Roma still had very little room for error today.
While Mourinho originally planned on starting his eleven most-trusted players, some last-minute scratches forced his hand, leaving The Special One no other choice but to roll out an ad hoc lineup featuring Bryan Cristante and Roger Ibañez each playing out of position while Ebrima Darboe was thrust into the heart of midfield and Stephan El Shaarawy returned to the starting lineup at left-wing, a spot normally occupied by Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who started as Roma's nominal central playmaker in place of the injured Lorenzo Pellegrini.
Losing the club captain ahead of such an important much is seldom a good thing but Mkhitaryan almost rendered that moot with a defense splitting pass that found Nicolo Zaniolo streaking down the right flank. Unfortunately, despite the inch-perfect pass, Bodø keeper Nikita Haikin read the play like a book and intervened before Zaniolo could even settle the ball.
Bodø would strike back almost immediately when Amahl Pellegrino got loose in Roma's area, firing a tight-angled shot at Rui Patricio. While the Roma keeper was up to the task, he left a potentially game-breaking rebound sitting on the doorstep, which mercifully went wasted.
There wasn't much action to speak of over the ensuing 10 minutes. Bodø, while well organized and playing confidently, wasn't playing with any real sense of urgency and was seemingly content to let the game come to them rather than forcing the issue. With their defense holding its shape, they were in the perfect position to pick off, block, or otherwise turn away any probing ball Roma fired into the box.
Roma's makeshift defense, featuring midfielder Bryan Cristante playing center-back and center-back Roger Ibañez playing left-back did well to deny Bodø at the other end, with Cristante stepping up to block a key attempt by Fredrik Bjorkan early in the half.
With both defenses holding sound, the match wasn't much for neutral observers to watch but things started to open up as the game crawled past the 20-minute mark. Roma found a bit of space in the Bodø box, with Stephan El Shaarawy firing a one-timed effort off a Zaniolo pass at Haikin's goal, only to see the Bodø defense turn it away with the last-minute deflection—an isolated incident that quickly became a theme in this match.
Roma would continue to force the action down their right-wing, firing long, arching balls through the crisp evening air in a desperate attempt to jump-start their flailing attack, but time after time, the Bodø defense was in the right place at the right time, blocking shots, intercepting passes and frustrating Mourinho's attack to no end.
El Shaarawy made a bit of noise several minutes later, firing two attempts in quick succession at Haikin, only to be denied both times. Despite many moments of frustration, Roma looked livelier with each passing minute and had a golden opportunity late in the half when Zaniolo, bursting down the right flank, had Tammy Abraham following his every move and practically begging for a square ball into the box, one that would have produced a surefire goal. But Zaniolo, whether by dumb luck or willful ignorance, missed the chance to set up Abraham and was quickly dispossessed by Marius Lode, who practically picked the ball right off Znaiolo's toe.
And that missed chance wouldn't go unpunished...
Ola Solbakken: 45th Minute (Roma 0, Bodø 1)
BODØ/GLIMT DOES IT AGAIN!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) November 4, 2021
JOSE MOURINHO’S SIDE ARE DOWN AGAIN TO THE NORWEGIAN CHAMPIONS pic.twitter.com/GdhTHEzetZ
Roma's inability to clear their end here gave Bodø a mini counterattack; one they didn't waste. With Patricio's long ball off the mark, Bodø quickly transitioned from defense into attack, picking out Solbakken after a series of headers and one quick through ball. From there, the Bodø number nine fired a beautiful one-timer into the upper left-hand corner, leaving Patricio no other option but to crane his neck as he watched the ball tuck into the back of the net.
Perhaps sensing that his squad needed some shaking up to start the new half, Mourinho turned to the seldom-seen Spanish duo of Carles Pérez and Gonzalo Villar, who replaced Mkhitaryan and Darboe, respectively; neither of whom moved the needle much in the first half.
SInce refereeing controversy and Roma seem to walk hand in hand, it was only right that the first half started off with a contentious moment. With Tammy Abraham turning facilitator down the flank, the Englishman whipped a ball across the box only to see it strike Brede Moe's elbow. And despite Roma's clamoring for a call (or at least a VAR check), their pleas went unanswered—unheard is more likely, since they were completely ignored—and the game marched on as if nothing happened.
Undeterred by match officials' blind eye, Roma would finally put one past Bodø thanks to a classic Stephan El Shaarawy strike.
Stephan El Shaarawy: 54th Minute (Roma 1, Bodø 1)
Stephan El Shaarawy puts Roma back in the game pic.twitter.com/IFBRcoZoEu— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) November 4, 2021
This was a beautiful team goal from Roma, as Gianluca Mancini picked out Zaniolo in the middle of the park from inside his own area. Zaniolo, seemingly atoning for ignoring Abraham in the first half, calmly piloted the ball up the pitch before finding El Shaarawy down the left flank. From there, it was a patented El Shaarawy goal: dribble, drag and curl one towards the far post. Beautifully done by SES, who was Roma's most dangerous attacking player tonight.
I wish we could say this goal inspired Roma to greater heights, but Bodø came right back, stealing the lead once more as Erik Botheim victimized Roma for the third time in this series.
Erik Botheim: 65th Minute (Roma 1, Bodø 2)
BODØ/GLIMT DON’T QUIT!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) November 4, 2021
THEY GET THEIR SECOND OF THE DAY AND THEY RESTORE THEIR LEAD pic.twitter.com/HHH548iAlY
This goal was a lesson in the value of composure and patience. Despite the sloppy initial pass towards the point of the 18-yard-box, which Veretout almost intercepted, Bodø calmly cycled the ball around the edge of the 18 before finding Alfons Sampsted for the decisive pass, who had little more to do than pick out the completely unmarked Botheim in the middle of the box for the headed goal.
With his club suddenly down again, Mourinho responded by replacing Zaniolo with Eldor Shomurodov, and the Uzbekistani international was thrown directly into the fray. With Roma attempting to stretch the Bodø defense by switching the ball across the face of the goal, Shomurodov had a golden chance to redirect a looping ball into the goal, but Marius Lode once again denied Roma with a brilliant last-ditch tackle, denying Shomurodov with a near goal-line clearance.
Sensing the heat of the moment, Roma amped up their pursuit of an equalizer, rushing ahead anytime they received the ball and very nearly leveled the match thanks to Gianluca Mancini. With the ball bounding towards the near post, Mancini had a chance to toe-poke the ball past Haikin, only to be denied at the last moment. Mancini saw his number called again on the ensuing corner and came even closer to scoring after Shomurodov flicked the near post corner to Mancini at the opposite post, only to see his header strike the upright. Bryan Cristante's quick follow-up attempt misfired and with Haikin stalling for time, Cristante literally picked him up off the pitch, earning a yellow card in the process.
With the match entering the final 10 minutes, Mourinho went deep into the bench, swapping out Abraham for Borja Mayoral, who almost immediately set up a goal, redirecting yet another high, looping cross into the middle of the box for Shomurodov, but luck wasn't on Roma's side.
Undaunted, the Giallorossi kept pressing the issue and almost leveled the match when an El Shaarawy far post curler was pushed past the post by Haikin, who was doing the classic “I'm the best goalkeeper ever” routine that only seems to happen when non-descript keepers face Roma.
As it turned out, Roma did need a miracle to avoid another complete Bodø disaster, and that's precisely what they received in the waning moments of regular time.
Roger Ibañez: 84th Minute (Roma 2, Bodø 2)
ROGER IBANEZ TO THE RESCUE!— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) November 4, 2021
Will Roma complete the comeback? pic.twitter.com/TKyu5Bi5nc
In a bit of a chaotic sequence that saw the ball pinging around the Bodø area, and shrewdly kept alive by Gonzalo Villar, Roma found an unexpected and almost-controversial equalizer. After finally settling the ball, Veretout found Mayoral in a tiny crevice on the left side of the box. From there, Mayoral did his best to keep the defense at bay before flinging the ball to Ibañez at the far post. Now here comes the near-controversy. While it seemed like Haikin picked the ball off the goalline, his “save” came a split second too late as the replay proved without a doubt that Ibañez's header crossed the goal line.
While the referee tacked on an additional four minutes to the match, outside of a wasted chance by Solbakken, neither side came close to scoring. And if you glanced really quickly, you could see Mourinho immediately heading into the tunnel after the final whistle.
Well, on the one hand, Roma managed to avoid a complete disaster, but the mere fact that we're celebrating a moral victory against such a small club speaks volumes. But, let's give credit where it's due, Bodø never—not for a single second in either match—shrunk from the moment; they played with purpose and belief and deserve to be group leaders.
As things stand right now, Roma is one point behind Bodø for the Group C lead but thanks to Zorya's two-nil win over CSKA Sofia, the Ukrainian club are only one point behind Roma in third place, essentially making their late November meeting a survive and advance affair.
Given how quickly he ducked out, chances are Mourinho was none too pleased with his club's performance today, so we'll wait with bated breath for his post-match comments, to say nothing of what, if any, changes he'll make this weekend.
Roma returns to league play with a trip away to Venezia on Sunday before the league pasues for the international break.