Milan may have held historical serve over Roma since the Giallorosse entered Serie A Femminile three years ago, but the capital club has made headway against their northern rivals this season, narrowing the gap between the two sides with a slim 1-0 defeat back in the fall and a scoreless draw earlier this month. Milan may have the household names in Valentina Giacinti and Valentina Bergamaschi, but Roma has been steadily chipping away at the Rossonere.
However, despite Milan finishing a whopping 14 points ahead of Roma on the table, both clubs entered this evening's Coppa Italia finale at the Mapei Stadium in search of the first silverware in their respective histories. Based on recent results and their shared history of being second-best to Juventus, this had all the makings of a 90-minute nailbiter—if not more.
But Roma's first-ever cup final got off to a rather inauspicious start after taking the opening kickoff. With the Giallorosse calmly starting the match with some rather innocuous passing, their first real forward movement—a simple pass down the left flank—was intercepted and nearly turned into a chance on goal as Natasha Dowie's shot sailed over the bar.
That early mistake set the tone for the first five to ten minutes of this match, with Roma looking uncomfortable in possession and unsure how to unlock the Milan midfield, but the match would soon settle down and Roma won the first of several first-half corners in only the fourth minute.
As the clock marched into double-digits, the match settled into a comfortable pace, with Roma working the ball primarily down the right flank thanks to the sheer hustle and effort of Angelica Soffia and Lindsay Thomas, who was sporting some slick all-black boots today, but the imbalance between the two flanks was noticeable.
We didn't have to wait long for the evening's first bit of controversy either. After Elena Linari telegraphed a pass through the middle, which was quickly picked off by Milan, Roma's star defender atoned for her error almost immediately, picking off Milan's ensuing pass. However, in the tussle for the loose ball, Manuela Giugliano was given a yellow card, for what we can't say; it was an incredibly soft play.
The Rossonere would strike back with a free-kick of their own but Yui Hasegawa's attempt from 20 yards floated harmlessly over the crossbar. South African midfielder Refiloe Jane launched Milan's next attempt—a speculative attempt from 30 yards out that was easily snapped up by Camelia Ceasar.
Through the opening 15 to 20 minutes, the precedent was set: Roma would work down the flanks and do most of their damage (or threats) from setpieces while Milan looked to exploit the Giallorosse backline with off the shoulder runs from Valentina Giacinti or Dowie, neither of whom had much success either being bullied off the ball by Allyson Swaby or getting flagged offside.
Roma's best chance of the half came in the 15th minute when Paloma Lázaro got on the end of a corner at the near post but her glancing header was just wide of the mark. Lindsey Thomas then continued to press the issue down the right, bursting into the box in the 21st minute and was taken down by the Milan defense but the referee saw nothing untoward about the play.
Thomas would make her name known several minutes later, this time getting on the end of a looping Andressa free-kick. The French forward did well to meet the ball from about 12 yards out, but her headed attempt looped harmlessly over the crossbar, but she was putting in some hard and impressive kilometers in the first half.
Milan would generate a couple of quick chances as the match crept to the 30-minute mark, with Jane once again testing Ceasar from distance, only to see Roma's Romanian keeper parry the ball away, while Giacinti finally found some space behind Swaby, setting up a one-v-one with Ceasar only to be dinged for offside...again.
Roma would continue to flex their setpiece muscle in the 34th minute when Elisa Bartoli found Lázaro at the near post but Milan keeper Maria Korenciova was quick off her line and pounced on the ball before Lázaro could even get her foot to it.
As the first half wound down, Roma got a brief scare when Soffia went down clutching at her right knee, leaving the pitch completely. While Kaja Erzen was quick to rip off her tracksuit, Soffia was able to return to the pitch after a few minutes on the touchline.
With one minute of stoppage time in the half, Roma generated arguably their best chance of the match when Soffia dribbled into the box, skirted around a defender and seemingly had a clean look at goal, but in the process of dribbling around the defense, the ball got caught in between her feet—and that was the last action of the first half.
Milan had more shots, Roma had more corners but neither side generated any real clear-cut chances. We were heading for a tense, tense finish.
The second half began in nearly identical fashion to the first: with Roma firing a speculative ball down the flank to Annamaria Serturini and somehow winning yet another corner. Nothing came from it, but this was a harbinger of things to come.
Seemingly fit and refreshed, Angelica Soffia fired a cracking shot from at least 30 yards out, forcing Korenciova into a save. That would be the last real bit of action for at least 20 minutes as Milan struggled mightily to make any hay in Roma's end. No matter who they worked the ball to, whether it was Giacinti, Dowie, or Hasegawa, they were quickly muscled off the ball or out of position by Swaby and Linari. When Roma's backline wasn't busy sweeping up the danger, Vanessa Bernauer, Manuela Giugliano, or Elisa Bartoli were swarming like a hive of bees, picking off passes, closing out space, and disrupting Milan at every turn.
Despite not registering a shot on goal (with her feet at least), Paloma Lázaro nearly cracked this match open in the 54th minute when she floated a beautiful header to Lindsey Thomas, but her header was just a bit off the mark.
As the match crawled towards the hour mark, Milan continued to be caught offside, continued to complain, and then resorted to body checking, clutching, and grabbing. Serturini nearly pulled a tick out of her Arjen Robben playbook, cutting in from the left, creating space, and letting loose from the edge of the area but her shot sailed wide.
Milan almost stole the match several minutes later when they capitalized on a failed overlap from Soffia and Bernauer. With the ball sitting in the grass, Milan seized on it and were racing towards Roma's end in the blink of an eye, with Giactini feeding Dowie into space, but Linari made a last-second tackle to erase the chance—a scene that repeated itself a few minutes later, with Giugliano bailing out the backline this time around.
Betty Bavagnoli would make her first change of the match in the 68th minute, swapping out Soffia, who was feeling some lingering effects from her first-half injury, for Kaja Erzen. It was a necessary but dicey substitution as Soffia was easily one of the best players on the pitch to that point.
The two sides would trade moves for the next 10 minutes or so, with neither side creating any genuine chances. With less than 10 minutes remaining, Bavagnoli made two key changes, bringing on Giada Greggi, which was a bit surprising given that she just returned from an ACL injury, and Agnese Bonfatini for Andressa and Lázaro, respectively.
With the match careening towards extra time, Roma almost...and I mean almost...won the match in dramatic fashion in stoppage time. With the ball bouncing around Milan's area, Vanessa Bernauer soon found the ball at her feet, and with precious little space to attempt a shot, she pulled out the pitching wedge and fired a shot that missed the back of the net by maybe six inches...if that.
But Bernie would laugh last.
With the game knotted at nil-nil after 90 minutes plus stoppage, we headed to extra-time. It was, as you would expect, tense with neither side really willing to take a chance. What few looks at goal extra time offered stemmed from tired legs, poor communication, and turnovers. But, without a doubt, the highlight of extra time was Swaby's near-goal-line clearance in the first half of extra time—Milan had a goal teed up and Swaby turned the ball away at the very last possible moment.
With 120 minutes in the books, the match headed to the penalty round, which is nervy under the best of circumstances, let alone when you're vying for the first trophy in club history. But, unlike regular time, Roma set the tone immediately when Camelia Ceasar saved Milan's first attempt. She went on to snuff out another attempt and with Milan striking the post on their next chance, the Coppa Italia was within Roma's reach.
And it all fell to Vanessa Bernauer—the same player who nearly delivered victory at the end of regular time—and with a cool and calm attempt, she came through, securing Roma's first-ever trophy.
And that's enough from me, just enjoy this scene...it's been 13 years in the making.