After defeating Glasgow City and Paris FC in the first round of Champions League qualification last month, Roma was rewarded with (drumroll please) another qualification round! And the next stop in the somewhat circuitous route to the 2022-2023 Champions League Group Stage takes the Giallorosse to the Czech Republic, where they'll face Sparta Prague at the 18-thousand-seat Letná Stadium before the return leg at the Tre Fontane next Thursday. If Roma survives and advances, they'll qualify for the actual group stage, set to begin in late October.
Fresh off a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Juventus, Alessandro Spugna's crew will be eager to put that defeat behind them while hopefully gaining the advantage over their Czech opponents by stealing a victory today, but it won't come easy, not with star defenders Elena Linari and Lucia Di Guglielmo each missing the match due to injury.
️ "Abbiamo calciatrici di grande esperienza al livello internazionale che possono aiutarci a crescere e queste gare sono un banco di prova importante"— AS Roma Femminile (@ASRomaFemminile) September 20, 2022
Alessandro Spugna alla vigilia dell'andata contro lo Sparta Praga#UWCL #ASRomaFemminile pic.twitter.com/iC3GeD3hI2
Starting on the road can be daunting, particularly when injuries suddenly beset your club, but Spugna won't let that distract his club:
We have to face it like all games. We're facing a very experienced team in this competition, with the advantage that there is the second leg. We must try to do our best to have a quiet match in Rome.
Apart from the unavailable girls, the rest of the group is doing well and has a great desire to achieve results since this is a competition in which we want to stay as much as possible. We hope to have a great game...matches like this must give us the opportunity to grow and improve. For us it is a new adventure, but we have players with great international experience, so they will have to give us a hand. These matches are an important testing ground.
While Spugna did well to shift the conversation away from injuries, Roma's defense will be hampered without the combined powers of Linari and Di Guglielmo, both of whom have been mainstays for Roma since arriving in the capital.
But it's not all bad news. Thanks to Betty Bavagnoli's masterful work behind the scenes, the Giallorosse's defense is deeper than ever, even if they're a bit light on full-backs. With Linari on the shelf, look for Spugna to lean on summer signees Moeka Minami and Carina Wenninger in central defense. The latter has nearly 30 Champions League appearances to her credit with Bayern Munich.
And while she may lack Wenninger's European pedigree, Minami has taken the capital by storm. Playing every single minute thus far in all competitions, Minami's transition to life in Serie A has been practically seamless, so much so that she was named to the Team of the Week after Roma's round three defeat against Juventus. Toss in her goal against Milan two weeks ago, and Minami's Roma career couldn't have gotten off to a better start.
On the flanks, things get a bit trickier for Spugna and the Giallorosse. With Di Guglielmo missing, look for Swedish utility defender Elin Landström to start opposite Elisa Bartoli at full-back. While she's been a bit player thus far, Landström does have a handful of Champions League appearances from her days with Linköping. Injuries or not, Roma needs consistent and reliable contributions from Landström, and what better time than the present?
There's no shame in dropping points to Juventus on the road, but that early season setback could ding Roma's confidence, so a resounding victory over Prague would restore their faith and put them in the driver's seat for a place in the group stage.