We mentioned the quirk in the Across the Romaverse preview episode: Ajax haven’t beaten Italian opposition since 2002, and the Dutch wait continues into this decade (at least for another week) after Roma drew first blood in Amsterdam tonight. Both sides went into tonight’s first leg lamenting the absence of first-team players, but Roma were able to welcome Jordan Veretout back to the starting lineup at the very last minute while Fonseca also took the decision to start
Nico Lopez Pedro and Edin Dzeko up front, opting for experience in a European quarter-final away game.
That experience allowed Roma to have a decent say in the opening half hour of exchanges this evening, with most commentary teams waiting for Roma to capitalize on the mutual game of cat-and-mouse between two footballing sides before half-time. A scorching, bending Bryan Cristante effort on Ajax’s goal from way downtown tested debutant keeper Kjell Scherpen for a moment, but tonight’s opening goal actually came for Ajax, after the naivety of youth let down Roma (once again) at the back.
The 39th-minute opener from Klaassen put the finishing touches on a microcosm of Roma’s season in 40 first-half minutes of play: A balanced, composed performance from the Giallorossi was completely undone by their own individual errors within seconds. The confidence looked like it was draining from then on in, as Ajax suddenly began getting chances on Pau Lopez’s goal that the Dutch hosts weren’t sniffing out before 1-0 happened.
But Pau Lopez was equal to everything. Absolutely everything.
Including being equal to a Dusan Tadic penalty in the 53rd minute, saved by Lopez after Tadic fired it right at the Roma keeper. That moment looked like Pau planted the flag for his side to dig deep and show some character, as it took just four minutes for his teammate and captain Lorenzo Pellegrini to bring Roma level at 1-1 from a direct free-kick (albeit with a literal helping hand from Ajax’s keeper) and with the chance to go on the ascendancy.
There were some flash moments at Roma’s defensive end in the last quarter of the match, and some substitutions and even some injuries on the night, but Roger Ibanez would atone for his earlier error in giving away the penalty by popping up for a Roma corner 87th minute. The conviction with which Ibanez brought the ball down from the air and slammed his left-foot winner into the roof of Ajax’s net would have made you believe this was a Roma side competing for titles, and not languishing in 7th place back in Serie A.
Roma now carry a 2-1 lead into next week’s return leg against Ajax back at the Stadio Olimpico. In the interim, Roma face Bologna in the league this Sunday.