We're not huge on moral victories around here, but it was hard not to get swept up in the "yeah, buts" after Roma's hard-fought one-nil defeat to Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals on March 21st. Despite barely seeing the ball, Roma stymied Barcelona's attack, limiting them to only one goal despite facing over 30 shots. And were it not for a couple of miraculous saves at the other end, Roma may have pulled off an upset for the ages.
Given the gulf in class between the two sides, it wasn't shocking to see Barcelona wipe the floor with the Giallorosse at the Nou Camp earlier this week, winning 5-1 to advance to the semifinals, but Roma learned a valuable lesson from this journey: they have nothing to fear.
While Roma dreams of brighter European days ahead, they had more pressing matters in mind: securing the bag and bringing home the first Scudetto in club history. Through the first two rounds of the Scudetto Pool—a five-team, eight-round playoff to decide the league title—Roma's record remains unblemished.
After thumping Fiorentina 5-1 on St. Patrick's Day, Roma returned to their league duties with a home match against AC Milan this afternoon at the Stadio Tre Fontane. The Rossenere, who once tormented Roma and ran neck-and-neck with Juve at the top of the table, slipped to fourth place in the regular season. Still, despite their struggles, any club with Martina Piemonte, Lindsey Thomas, and Laura Giuliani must be respected.
Despite his club carrying heavy legs from their trip to Barcelona, Alessandro Spugna relied on his A-Team, trotting out a lineup featuring his usual heavy hitters: Valentina Giacinti, Andressa Alves, Manuela Giugliano, and Emilie Haavi, among several other Roma regulars.
Roma grabbed an early lead, but rather than Giacinti, Alves, or any of the Giallorosse's other attacking talents, defender Elena Linari drew first blood, redirecting a Giugliano free kick past Giuliani in the Milan goal.
The two sides would trade barbs for the next 20 minutes before Roma nearly put the game away in the 28th minute. With Valentina Giacinti controlling the ball in the middle of the park, Benedetta Glionna made a right-to-left diagonal run across the face of the goal. And while she technically beat Giuliani, the Milan defense pulled the ball off the line.
Roma was denied in the very next touch when Emilie Haavi tried to catch the Milan defense napping, driving the ball into the area from the left flank and firing a shot narrowly over the crossbar in the 29th minute.
And, as is often the case, when you miss changes, the opposition makes you pay. With time winding down in the first half, Milan leveled the match in the 42nd minute after Valery Vigilucci tapped a loose ball past Roma keeper Camelia Ceasar.
However, as they've done all season long, Roma picked themselves up, brushed the dirt off their shoulder, and got down to business. With the second half barely underway, Roma won a free kick at the left edge of the box. Rather than trying to create havoc with a square ball into the middle of the area, Bendetta Glionna deftly dropped the ball in the upper left-hand corner of the goal, beating Giuliani with ease to put Roma back on top.
Still, as we know all too well, a one-goal lead is seldom safe. With 40 minutes to burn, Roma needed another goal to ice the match and preserved their eight-point lead at the top of the table. And as it turned out, the Giallorosse would only have to wait 10 minutes for pay dirt.
With Andressa whipping in a corner towards Linari at the far post, the Roma defender wisely redirected the ball back to the point of the 18-yard box, where Haavi was locked and loaded. And with one expert swing of her right leg, Haavi scorched the ball past a diving Giuliani to seal the deal, delivering all three points and bringing gRoma one step closer to the Scudetto.