This isn’t the way you gee yourself up for a cup final. The Napoli-Roma final league game of the season began with us wondering what changes Betty Bavagnoli would make to the starting lineup, with the May 30th Coppa Italia final against AC Milan just a week away. Bavagnoli opted for her heaviest rotation seen in recent weeks, which was likely the right decision on paper, but will feel badly let down by Roma’s concentration in recent weeks that was typified by the 2-2 draw to Napoli today.
Roma began the game with Camelia Ceasar in goal, after the keeper had sat the last two games out on the bench for Rachele Baldi. There were also starts for Kaja Erzen at right-back, Giada Greggi and Claudia Ciccotti in midfield, and Andressa’s return to the starting lineup meant Lindsey Thomas could start on the left wing to give first-team regular (and Roma topscorer) Annamaria Serturini a rest.
However, fate contrived that Serturini would pay the biggest price by the final whistle. Before that moment, the match was quite cagey but Roma took a 21st-minute lead when Andressa floated in a corner for Elena Linari to get on the end of on the far side. The ball evaded a collision of bodies inside Napoli’s box, while Linari pounced on her opportunity to come in unmarked and tap into the net for the 1-0 lead.
@ElenaLinari pic.twitter.com/i7CmZhYuxJ— AS Roma Femminile (@ASRomaFemminile) May 22, 2021
That led to a surreal attitude from Napoli’s players, who were mostly content to camp nine outfield players inside their own half at home, despite being one goal down and increasingly reliant on San Marino not taking the lead in their own match against Fiorentina, across the country. Perhaps yet more warning signs from Roma—like an Andressa free-kick that Napoli keeper Perez had to keep out with a diving save onto the crossbar—buoyed Napoli into a brief moment of trying to commit some players into Roma’s half just before half-time, but the Partenopei were flirting with relegation by the time the first 45 minutes were over.
At that point, It would have taken just one San Marino goal to provisionally dump Napoli into the relegation places. And Roma came out for the second half to more of the same laissez-fair attitude from their Derby Del Sole hosts.
The second half saw more life from the fans overlooking the match from the overhead pitchside apartment balconies, who were audibly celebrating and pumping horns as they relayed the news that Fiorentina had taken the lead against San Marino in the other game, ensuring Napoli’s survival. As a matter of fact, a flurry in three goals in four minutes elsewhere saw San Marino 2-1 down in their own game, which probably gave Napoli even less reason to worry when Roma doubled their own lead in the 61st minute.
THOMAS! 2-0 per noi al 61'!#NapoliRoma 0-2#ASRoma #ASRomaFemminile pic.twitter.com/1AGtfj6A5G— AS Roma Femminile (@ASRomaFemminile) May 22, 2021
A flurry of movement inside Napoli’s box saw the ball eventual wind up at the feet of Andressa, who wasted no time twisting on the byline and cutting a pass back to Lindsey Thomas. Roma’s French forward then hit a hard strike high and lofted into the top far corner for 2-0. But if Roma thought they wrapped up the result from that moment just past the hour, that assumption soon fostered a nightmare sequence of events in the dying half-hour of this league season.
It took just three minutes for Roma to let Napoli back in the game, on what was the hosts’ first serious foray into Roma’s defensive half as Napoli finally committed some numbers forward. The Napoli blitz down Erzen’s flank was rewarded with a goal at the far post after the ball rebounded out to Pia Rijsdijk to strike for the home side.
The brief momentum of the game then died back down amid substitutions, where Roma chose to take off Agnese Bonfantini, Andressa, and Erzen for Angelica Soffia, Manuela Giugliano, and Alice Corelli respectively. But it was perhaps Roma’s fourth substitution, in the final five minutes of the game, that would be the most costly for Roma’s prospects in next week’s cup final.
The Final Nightmare Moments of the Game
Annamaria Serturini was brought on for Paloma Lazaro to get some rest, with just five minutes of normal time left and Roma TV commentator Alessio Calicchia never wasting a moment to ironically quip against the referee, for every time the ref failed to punish Napoli’s increasingly excessive hard-tackling in the game. The irony wasn’t lost on anyone, then, when the home side won a free-kick of their own—deep inside their own half—in the 88th minute of the game.
It was, again, probably only the second time in the match that Napoli committed big numbers forward (with Napoli keeper Perez coming outside of her own box to launch the free-kick deep into Roma’s box) but Roma contrived to let their opponents completely have their way with the Giallorosse inside their own box. Youngster Alice Corelli (whether intentionally or not) tripped up Napoli’s attacker inside Roma’s box, and Napoli was awarded a penalty that they made no mistake on; drawing the game level 2-2 at the death.
With news filtering through from the stands that Fiorentina had sealed San Marino’s relegation fate at full-time in the other match, Roma immediately tried to hit back against Napoli at the other end and save themselves the indignity of surrendering 4th place in the league to Fiorentina on the last day of the season—something which looked extremely unlikely just a month ago when Roma themselves beat Fiorentina 2-1 in the Viola’s own back yard.
— ACF Fiorentina Femminile (@ACF_Womens) May 22, 2021
Chiudiamo la #SerieAFemminile al 4° posto. Grazie a tutti voi che ci avete sostenuto in questa stagione!#ForzaViola #Fiorentina pic.twitter.com/eeHeVeMcgK
Ever since then, Roma have done the usual: Turn up for the big games and chuck away results in the less glamorous matches. But the way they chucked this one away came with a sting in the tail, as Roma’s assault on Napoli’s goal led to Annamaria Serturini sticking out her leg to contest a ball inside the Partenopei box. Her leg wrapping with a Napoli defender’s own sent Serturini rotating mid-air, and the Italian forward was incredibly unlucky that the back of her head met with Napoli keeper Perez’s elbow as the keeper was charging the ball unsighted.
Serturini lay prone on the ground for several minutes before she was stretchered off the field. Perhaps realizing the gravity of his non-penalty call, the referee then wasted no time blowing for a handball penalty on a Napoli defender, as Alice Corelli’s shot was charged down by a Napoli arm on the edge of the penalty area. Roma had a lifeline to save some dignity in their season, but penalty-taker Manuela Giugliano saw her penalty saved by Perez.
Wild and foul-tempered celebrations ensured, well before the final whistle was blown today. There was time for Napoli’s Federica Caffarata to get into an unnecessary beef with Angelica Soffia before Caffarata immediately went sliding into Manuela Giugliano on the restart. That was the moment where Roma TV’s commentator finally lost his patience and outright called Caffarata a clown for her actions while condemning the officiating of this match as amateur stuff.
But, honestly, Roma took a significant part in their own self-destruction in Napoli today. They’ve surrendered 4th place in the table, they’ve drawn against a vastly inferior opponent, and they’ve lost their top scorer to traumatic injury just one week before the cup final. AC Milan are looking like they really want to win the Coppa next week, while Roma are looking anything but.