We've been so wrapped up in Roma's pursuit of their first-ever Champions League appearance—a goal that can be achieved with a win over Sampdoria next Saturday—that we've almost ignored another potentially notable achievement: Roma are 90 minutes away from their second-straight Coppa Italia finals appearance. After winning the title last season, the first trophy in Roma's brief four-year history, the Giallorosse marched through the group stage and knockout rounds, breezing past Como in the quarterfinals earlier this year before being drawn against Empoli in the semifinals.
And while it wasn't as easy as we expected, Roma won the first leg 1-0 thanks to a 60th-minute strike from Manuela Giugliano. If the Giallorosse can repeat that feat tomorrow, they'll earn the right to defend their title against Juventus, who enter the second leg of their semifinal matchup against AC Milan on Sunday with an insurmountable 6-1 advantage.
The stage for Roma's back-to-back titles is almost set, but before we dream of Elisa Bartoli and the crew hoisting another trophy, let's take a quick look back at the first leg, one that swung on the leg of arguably the most talented player in the capital...
March 13, 2022: Empoli 0, Roma 1
While this budding rivalry may lack the historical animosity of so many of the game's best derbies, with transfer traffic flowing so freely between the two clubs, that familiarity may soon breed some serious contempt, especially if Roma continues to win important matches like these in such dramatic fashion. With neither club able to make their mark in attack, the Giallorosse turned to midfielder Manuela Giugliano, who, at the stroke of the hour mark, dropped one of the best free-kick goals you'll ever see.
Teeing the ball up practically parallel to the goal line, Giugliano looked stoic as she considered her options: Would she play it short to Glionna, try to tuck it inside the near post, float the ball into the box for Paloma Lázaro, or hope to just interject a bit of chaos into the proceedings by producing a fortuitous rebound?
Well, as it turned out, the answer was...none of the above.
With Glionna starting her decoy run to the edge of the box, Giugliano gave a subtle glance at her intended target: the far post. And whether it was that glimpse or Glionna's duplicity, Giugliano soon made fools out of the entire Empoli defense, deftly dropping the ball in the farthest reaches of the goal: the upper 90 of the far right post.
We say it all the time, but this goal was proof positive: she's the only number 10 in town for a reason.
But will Giugliano's magic be enough to book Roma’s spot in the final on May 22nd? To answer that, let's take a quick look at a few of the storylines in Saturday's semifinal.
Keep An Eye On
Given their spot on the table (7th out of 12 teams) and their lowly scoring record (25 goals, 5th fewest), you're right not to expect fireworks from any player wearing an Empoli kit, but the Azzurre do have a few notable players, including Italy youth standout Asia Bragonzi. The Crema-born attacking midfielder and former Juve youth product leads the way for Empoli, bagging seven goals in 17 appearances, including two free-kick goals of her own.
With her ability on the ball and nose for goal, Bragonzi is sure to give Elena Linari and the Roma defense all they can handle, but if the Giallorosse are able to curb Bragonzi's influence in the run of play, the 21-year-old can still turn the match on its head from a setpiece, much like Giugliano
But she's far from Empoli's only threat...
We gave the 21-year-old Dutch talent a shout last time out, but it bears repeating. With five goals and six assists, Dompig is among the most prolific attacking players in the league this season. Her 11 goals + assists are tied for the fourth-highest mark in the league, ranking ahead of traditional standouts like Cristiana Girellia, Veronica Boquete, and Valentina Cernoia, among others.
The Dompig-Bragonzi duo is among the most prolific in the league, so keeping this tandem under their thumb will go a long way toward ensuring Roma returns to the Coppa Italia finale next month.
But if things get dire after 85 minutes or so, Roma may look to, well, a Roman...sort of.
Sophie Roman Haug and Roma's Last-Minute Heroics
Much like José Mourinho's men, Spugna's side are no strangers to last-gasp victories, including the first leg against Empoli last month. And perhaps no player embodies that never say die spirit better than Sophie Roman Haug. Signed from LSK Kvinner over the winter, Haug, a 22-year-old Norwegian forward, has spent much of her time in the capital on the periphery, but she's certainly made the most of her meager opportunities.
With two goals and one assist in only 90 minutes in a Roma shirt, Haug is giving new meaning to the word efficient. And what's more, she has a flair for the dramatic, scoring both her goals after the 85th minute, including an 89th-minute match-winner against Fiorentina last weekend—an emphatic header that kept the club's 14-match Serie A unbeaten streak intact.
If Empoli are somehow able to contain the Roma attack and can dodge the Giugliano bullet, keep an eye on the young Scandanavian in the number 22 shirt. The day will come when she’s leading the line for Roma, but for now, she remains the ace up Spugna's sleeve.
A win tomorrow would see the Giallorosse qualify for their second straight Coppa Italia finale, and unlike years past, the prospect of facing Juventus in a cup final doesn’t seem quite as daunting.