With a two-goal aggregate lead heading into this match, the order of the day for Roma was to simply survive and advance. Whether they took their foot off the gas and played to a scoreless draw, ramped up the pressure on Braga to win with aplomb, or even let their Portuguese visitors score a courtesy goal to boost their confidence, it didn't matter. Roma just needed to punch their time card, put in a solid 90-minute shift, and get ready for the Round of 16.
And through the first 20 minutes of this match, it seemed like Paulo Fonseca was content to let this match die on the vine. However, even with so little at stake, Roma's talent advantage was obvious, so the Giallorossi could only play nice for so long.
With Dzeko reinserted into a slightly altered lineup (at varying points, it shifted from the usual 3-4-2-1 to your classic 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation) and El Shaarawy happy to make well-timed runs off Dzeko's shoulder into the box, this almost looked like the 2017 vintage of Roma where Dzeko's gravitational pull in the middle gave El Shaarawy, Diego Perotti and Mohamed Salah acres of space to make darting runs at the opponent's box, giving defenses fits in the process.
It wasn't quite that crisp, but Dzeko and El Shaarawy teamed up just like old times.
Edin Dzeko: 23rd Minute (Roma 1, Braga 0)
While this wasn't a biscotto match of old, Roma were noticeably more conservative in the opening 15 to 20 minutes. They weren't necessarily playing passively, but they weren't really going out of their way to stretch the Braga defense either. But that all changed thanks to a lovely bit of skill from Stephan El Shaarawy.
After Bryan Cristante played a pinpoint pass from midfield into Dzeko, Roma's former captain quickly shuffled the ball off to El Shaarawy, who was able to get off a beautifully curled shot despite being surrounded by Braga defenders. El Shaarawy was mere inches away from grabbing his first goal since returning to Roma, but rather than tucking it inside the far post, El Shaarawy's curled effort struck the woodwork but fell right into Dzeko's path, leaving the big Bosnian with a gimme goal to put Roma up 1-0 and 3-0 on aggregate.
The final 20 minutes of the first half featured some surprisingly wide-open football, with Braga desperately trying to orchestrate an epic comeback and Roma simply exercising their tactical superiority over the visitors, generating chances on the counter, outside, and through probing long-balls from the midfield.
And Roma nearly doubled their advantage late in the first half when El Shaarawy played a square ball into Pedro from the left flank. But rather than settling it and picking out a corner, Pedro one-timed El Shaarawy's pass and struck the crossbar, missing a goal by a few inches.
Despite the advantage on the scoreboard, the first half was pretty evenly contested between the two clubs. Roma won the possession battle (53%) and dribbled circles around Braga, but the Portuguese club still managed four shots and were equally crisp passing the ball.
Heading into the second half, Roma now had an insurmountable three-goal aggregate lead, so the ensuing 45 minutes were more about continuity and balancing fatigue ahead of Roma's crucial league match against AC Milan on Sunday.
Accordingly, Paulo Fonseca used all five of his substitutes in the second half. Starting with a Lorenzo Pellegrini for Gonzalo Villar change to start the half, Fonseca also gave minutes to Carles Pérez, Leonardo Spinazzola, Borja Mayoral—who came on after Dzeko appeared to injure his groin—and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who made a brief 15-minute cameo to close out the match.
With their ticket to the Round of 16 practically booked before this match even started, the second half was lacking in consequence, but Roma did manage a second goal thanks to a lovely linkup between Pellegrini and Pérez.
Carles Pérez: 74th Minute (Roma 2, Braga 0)
Moments after botching a penalty kick won by Pérez, Lorenzo Pellegrini redeemed himself here, picking out Pérez with a high, looping right-to-left cross that settled right at the Spaniard's feet. And with a subtle flick of his foot, Pérez buried this ball into the far corner in one smooth motion.
Braga would get a consolation goal thanks to a Bryan Cristante own goal who, in an attempt to intercept a low ball across the face of goal, inadvertently redirected it right past Lopez, who really had no chance to stop it—an unexpected but ultimately meaningless blemish on this two-legged tie. Roma bounced right back and scored a third goal of their own thanks to Borja Mayoral.
For the third straight time in this competition (and for the second consecutive season), Roma has qualified for the Europa League Round of 16. Cristante's own goal took a fraction of the shine off this victory, but with a 5-1 aggregate win, and with none of the Braga goals actually being scored by Braga players, there is no doubt that the better side is advancing to the next round.
We don't know who Roma will face just yet, but they're one step closer to ending the club's decade-plus long trophy drought.
A massive, massive match against Milan at the Olimpico on Sunday.
Man of the match?
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Stephan El Shaarawy