Facing a completely unfamiliar opponent is always a difficult task. It doesn't matter what league they're from, what place they're in, or how sterling their reputation is, without the comfort that comes from a shared history, you can never fully avoid the fear of the unknown. Whether it's an overlooked player, a new set-piece technique, or a tactical tweak you weren't expecting, a foreign team (both literally and figuratively) is always primed for an upset.
Roma were up against that and more in their Europa League Round of 32 matchup against Braga. Not only were their Portuguese foes completely unknown to Roma, but Paulo Fonseca's crew was dealing with an injury crisis in defense, one that saw them without Chris Smalling and Marash Kumbulla for both legs, while Roger Ibañez and Bryan Cristante each suffered minor injuries during the first leg, though Cristante returned in time for yesterday's return fixture in Rome.
Despite those minor inconveniences, Roma persevered, breezing past Braga with a 5-1 aggregate victory, advancing to the Round of 16 for the second straight year. And moments ago, Roma learned who they'd be facing next:
While many of us feared a Round of 16 fixture against Manchester United, Arsenal, or Spurs, it really couldn't be any other way, could it? Roma will face another one of Paulo Fonseca's former clubs, and indeed the one they signed him from, Shakhtar Donetsk.
Roma and Donetsk have actually faced each other six times in European Competition, most recently in the 2017-2018 Champions League Round of 16, where Roma squeaked past Fonseca thanks to a miraculous toe save from Bruno Peres, which preserved Roma's away goal advantage and set the Giallorossi on their legendary path towards a Barcelona upset in the next round before falling to Liverpool in the semifinals.
The Round of 16 will be played over two legs: March 11th in Rome and then the return leg in Donetsk on March 18th.