A point saved? Or two points dropped? It was a result that benefited neither team that played a match that, until extra time, seemed destined to be the one that saw the Giallorossi’s unbeaten league run end, and yet here we are, with a very strong argument that this was in fact two points dropped for Roma, such was their dominance late in this one.
The first half started promising for the Giallorossi, who right from the off seemed up for the occasion, with no semblance of a Conference League hangover on display. And while you knew that Napoli would inevitably grow into the game and leave their mark, it was a refreshing sight to see after so many seasons in recent memory filled with matches against top-four rivals that always seemed too big for Roma.
Unfortunately, any goodwill generated from the opening 10 minutes or so of the contest quickly dissipated, when Roma were caught napping and Hirving Lozano found space behind, resulting in a challenge from Roget Ibañez that was sloppy at best, reckless at worst. Surprisingly, the referee swallowed his whistle and motioned for play to continue, likely assuming Lozano made the most of it. An extended period on the ground for Lozano and a VAR check later, and what once seemed like a lucky break for Roma turned sour, with the referee giving a penalty following the check, resulting in Lorenzo Insigne converting the spot-kick and giving Napoli the lead on the evening.
Roma to their credit, refused to wilt in the face of adversity, leaning on the momentum generated from their recent unbeaten run. And while the Giallorossi had yet to manage a shot on target 25 minutes into the match, you didn’t get the sense that the match was over by any means. Ultimately Roma’s best chance of the half came in the 39th minute, with Nicola Zalewski winning a free-kick right at the edge of the box. The ensuing attempt by Lorenzo Pellegrini was whipped across goal, with a Napoli defender flicking the ball on in hopes of heading it out-of-bounds, instead hitting the crossbar in an agonizingly close moment.
Roma started the second half by replacing Bryan Cristante with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the Armenian’s influence sorely missed in the opening half of the match. But despite the introduction of one of Roma’s most important players, the Giallrossi didn’t have much to show for it in the opening twenty minutes or so of the second half, a combination of quality Napoli defending led by Koulibaly, and some poor finishing from Roma, namely from Abraham and Mancini, both of whom missed tremendous chances to equalize.
And as the clock crept closer to the full 90, as Koulibaly continued to make crunching tackle after crunching tackle, clearance after clearance, it seemed as if this just wasn’t going to be Roma’s night, despite taking control of the game by the scruff of the neck.
But as fate would have it, at almost the exact moment that 8 minutes of extra-time were awarded, Pellegrini in possession cut the ball back towards goal right to Felix Afena-Gyan, who had the composure to let the ball roll entirely by him and onto the feet of Abraham, who calmly provided a back-heel pass to a wide-open Stephan El Shaarawy, leaving Alex Meret with no chance at saving the equalizing shot. With the comeback fully on from here, it looked a matter of when, not if, Roma would get their second goal. Unfortunately, the Giallorossi just left it too little too late and were forced to settle for a draw, but you certainly have to tip your hat to this team and the fight they showed on the evening.
In case you missed any of the action, enjoy the highlights below. If you want a deeper look, here is the extended highlight package.