Facing mighty Bayern Munich on the road today, Roma's expectations were tempered. Sure, the Giallorosse were tossing aside their Serie A competitors like a loaf of stale bread, but there's a world of difference between hosting last-place Napoli at the Stadio Tre Fontane and facing the reigning German champions in the heart of Bavaria.
That's not to suggest Roma would shrink from the moment, of course, but the gulf in class between the German and Italian leagues is simply too great to ignore. Throw in the home pitch advantage, and it's easy to see why Bayern Munich was favored in today's Champions League Group Stage opener.
And from the outset, it felt like our worst fears would be realized. Sensing their superiority, Munich overcame a sloppy start and began dictating terms to Roma after the 5th or 6th minute, looking more poised and purposeful in possession than their Italian guests. Roma did well to find room in the wide spaces, with Emilie Haavi and Lucia Di Guglielmo overlapping and exchanging positions on the right flank to keep the defense honest.
However, despite their best intentions, Roma couldn't make effective use of the ball in the first half. Where Munich was calm and composed in attack, methodically working the ball around the final third as they attempted to feed forwards Lea Schüller and Jovan Damnjanovic, Roma was hasty, making careless passes in transition or, when that failed, simply hoofing the ball up the pitch and hoping Valentina Giacinti or Evelyne Viens could outrun the defense.
Despite that lack of fluidity in attack, Roma did well to bend but not break under pressure, seemingly always composing themselves at the last minute to disrupt Bayern Munich's forward movements. But you can only bend so much. Although it required a bit of bad luck, Roma's resolve was finally broken in the 20th minute when Damnjanovic scored a setpiece goal, tapping home a ball that was redirected by a Bayern Munich player's shoulder—not a handball by any means, but certainly one that elicited several “you gotta be kidding me” looks from the Roma defense.
Undaunted, Roma soldiered on, maintaining their composure for the remainder of the half, seemingly content to head into the locker room to readjust for the second half. But then, as it seemingly always does, disaster struck at the worst possible moment. With maybe 30 seconds left before the halftime whistle, Roma conceded an own goal that took not one but two deflections to slip past goalkeeper Camelia Ceasar, with the shot bouncing first off Moeka Minami's shoulder before careening off Elena Linari's hip and into the net.
Down two flukey goals on the road, Roma had every right to pack it in, lick their wounds, and prepare for Ajax next week, but the Giallorosse approached the second half with a renewed sense of vigor. Gone were the hesitant looks and backward passes, replaced by purposeful, vertical passes and intelligent off-the-ball runs.
And it wouldn't take long for Roma to half their deficit. With the match creeping towards the hour mark, Manuela Giugliano played a picture-perfect through ball, catching Viens in-stride in the left channel, setting up the Canadian striker for an equally exquisite left-footed finish.
Still, with 30 minutes left to play and one more goal to erase, the odds were likely against Roma, who now had to face an even more compact and resolute Bayern defense. Try as they might, Roma couldn't find paydirt in the ensuing half an hour, coming close but never close enough.
But thanks to a spate of substitutions and a few minor injuries, the match officials tacked on five additional minutes to the end of this match—and Roma needed nearly every single second.
With the clock ticking away (or up, as it were), Manuela Giugliano found herself dead-center in the box. While Bayern keeper Maria Grohs turned away Giugliano's effort, Roma finally caught a break as her follow-up attempt, which came at a rather acute angle at the far right post, took a deflection before squirming into the back of the net at the opposite post, rescuing a point for Roma at the death.
And yes, we can wring our hands and lament the own goal that cost the Giallorosse a victory, but the resolve Roma showed in the second half (not to mention a surprisingly even stat sheet) should buoy their spirits as they move through their remaining group stage matches.
If you missed any of the action, please enjoy the match highlights. This was a night to remember!