We're not typically huge fans of moral victories around here, but Roma's last matchup against Juventus, the awkwardly rescheduled/reformatted Supercoppa Italiana in early January, was a definitive sign of progress for Roma. Through their first three years in existence, Roma has struggled mightily against Juventus, losing all four league matches by a combined 13-1 scoreline.
So when the two sides met in the Supercoppa semifinals in January, we weren't exactly thrilled at the prospect, but by forcing the match into added extra time Roma did actually achieve something: for the first time ever, they looked like they belonged on the same pitch as Juve. Now, it didn't work out in the end as Cristiana Girelli won the match in the 116th minute, but when you consider the brief history between the two clubs, this was Roma's finest performance against Juventus to date, one that could portend a genuine rivalry between the two clubs.
Roma vs. Juventus: March 13th. 12:30 CET/6:30 EST. Stadio Tre Fontane, Roma.
While that performance may have sparked the flames of optimism, our reality remains unchanged: Juventus are still perched atop the Serie A table, six points ahead of second-place AC Milan and 20 points beyond fourth-place Roma.
Despite that sizable gap, Roma is one of the hottest clubs in the league at the moment, winning seven of their last eight matches and breezing past Florentia by a 10-1 aggregate scoreline to reach the Coppa Italia semifinals, which will be contested over two legs: tomorrow in the capital and April 23rd in Torino.
Roma manager Betty Bavagnoli spoke to Roma TV about the challenges facing her club in the first leg of the semifinals tomorrow (translation via VoceGiallorossa):
The week was good, we rearranged our ideas, we looked at each other and analyzed the defeat suffered against Verona. We became aware of the fact that the incidents of the course happen, but now there is a very important match for the season and for our journey. We prepared well, we saw where to improve. The only negative note is Bartoli’s injury, who with Verona suffered a blunt-sprain trauma to his knee and therefore misses Juve.
The match is very difficult, but we know and respect Juventus. It has athletes of international caliber, very strong young people and a very good coach. We know who we face, but we will try to play our game with courage and carry on our work. The ball it’s round, we start from 0-0 and it will be a good match
The match will bring us together against a great team. They are matches that everyone always wants to play, no further motivation is needed. Surely this match can continue to give us awareness and self-esteem, everything will depend on how we face the match. We know what to do, the difference. always does the head in the approach to a race
Star forward Annamaria Serturini also shed a bit of light on Saturday's match, speaking to Tuttosport Friday evening: (link and translations via VoceGiallorossa)
...the Cup becomes our goal all the more, which we can try to approach on Saturday by exploiting a very positive moment for us.
Let’s start with this: the game starts at 0-0 and as long as we have the ball, they can’t score. We are working on the details, but also on the attitude, we are a strong and quality team, this awareness must allow us to enter the field with tranquility. In addition, we will have the drive of those who are experiencing a very positive moment, without forgetting that ours is certainly a more inexperienced group than the opponent: if we can translate this characteristic into courage and a little boldness, could prove to be another strength.
You have to love the mix of pragmatism and optimism embedded in these comments. Both Bavagnoli and Serturini recognize the challenge ahead of them on Saturday yet they're quick to point out that the semifinals are a clean slate. And Bavagnoli takes it a step further, seemingly tearing a page out of Norman Dale's Hoosiers playbook, reminding us all that, despite the odds in this match, the ball is still round and the score will be 0-0 at kickoff.
The game will indeed start off scoreless, but keeping Juventus off the scoreboard, let alone winning the match, is an entirely different story, but it's not impossible. As their Supercoppa fixture proved, the gap between these two clubs is narrowing, slowly but surely.
And while the Serie A status quo has not changed since Roma last met Juventus, they may have an ace up their sleeve, one the Old Lady has never seen—Elena Linari. One player, especially a defender, won't turn the tide of the match on her own, but Juventus have never come up against a defender as good as Linari, at least not in Italy.
Since signing with Roma in the middle of January, Linari has made four appearances for the Giallorosse and during that span, Roma has pitched three clean sheets en route to a 3-1 record while outscoring their opponents by an 8-1 margin.
If the Supercoppa match was a genuine indication of the shrinking gap between Roma and Juventus, then any advantage they can assert over Juve, particularly the attacking tandem of Girelli and Barbara Bonansea, should dramatically increase Roma's chances to score an upset on Saturday.
And that advantage could be Linari; a world-class defender in every regard and arguably the best center-back in the league. Together with Allyson Swaby, Roma's central pairing has enough brains, brawn, and anticipation to effectively check whatever Juve's dynamic duo brings to the table.
Make no mistake, it will take a nearly flawless performance from Betty Bavagnoli and Roma to even remain within shouting distance of Juventus tomorrow. But thanks to the power and precision of Linari and Swaby in defense, the game-changing speed of Annamaria Serturini outside, and the pinpoint passing of Manuela Giugliano and Andressa in attack, for the first time ever, an upset seems possible.