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Roma Survives First Half Scare Against Cremonese, Advances to Coppa Quarterfinals

Roma overcame a dicey first half to push past Cremonese and into the Coppa Italia quarterfinals thanks to second half goals from Romelu Lukaku and Paulo Dybala.

AS Roma v Cremonese - Coppa Italia Round of 16 Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images

Given their league commitments, spot on the table, and ever-present injury issues, you could forgive José Mourinho for rolling out a patchwork lineup in Roma's Coppa Italia Round of 16 matchup against Cremonese today at the Stadio Olimpico. Truth be told, considering those injuries mentioned earlier, the only nominal starters watching from the bench today were Paulo Dybala, Rui Patricio, and Nicola Zalewski.

No matter who Mourinho selected, Roma didn't have the luxury of overlooking Cremonese, who not only ousted the Giallorossi from the Coppa last season but scored a 2-1 league win last February. And that familiarity bred contempt early in this match, with Cremonese drawing four yellow cards in the first 16 minutes.

As is typically the case in chippy affairs like this, chances are few and far between, putting extra emphasis on setpieces. In the 16th minute, Lorenzo Pellegrini teed up a beautifully curled free kick from the right channel, only to see Cremonese keeper Andreas Jungdal make a stretched save at the post.

Cremonese’s first chance saw recent Roma tormentor David Okereke find space in the area, but thanks to a well-timed intervention from Zeki Celik, the Nigerian forward was left frustrated. But not as frustrated as Roma, who were stoned twice in quick succession not long after: first came Jungdal's point-blank save against Belotti, which then saw Pellegrini's rebound attempt carom off the crossbar.

To recap: a chippy match against a supposedly inferior opponent that has gotten the best of Roma before, an opposing goalkeeper standing on his head, and Roma hitting the woodwork at the ready—you knew where this was going.

Frank Tsadjout: 37th Minute (Roma 0, Cremonese 1)

I'm not sure where the blame lies on this goal, but it was a slowly developing yet chaotic sequence that seemed to catch Svilar off-guard. And by the time he collected his wits, it was too late—though you'll notice Cristante falling over bass-ackwards as the shot was taken, which seems fitting somehow.

With his club down 1-0 to a plucky Cremonese side, Mourinho left nothing to chance in the second half, bringing on Paulo Dybala, Rasmus Kristensen, and Nicola Zalewski to start the second stanza. Mourinho's moves nearly paid immediate dividends when Dybala set up Lukaku in the area, only to be denied a Valentin Antov blocked shot.

With time ticking away and Roma growing increasingly desperate, the capital club was denied by the woodwork again after Stephan El Shaarawy cut in from the left flank and fired a daisy cutter toward the right post, striking the upright and missing an equalizer by a matter of inches.

Dybala, El Shaarawy, and Leandro Paredes all had clean looks at goal in the second half, only to come up short of the mark, but you can only hold the Giallorossi down for so long.

Romelu Lukaku: 77th Minute (Roma 1, Cremonese 1)

After settling a beautiful ball from the defense, Dybala kicked off a three-touch sequence with Sardar Azmoun and Romelu Lukaku, with the Iranian striker taking the feed from Dybala before playing it through to Lukaku, who slotted it home with ease to level the match.

While Roma did well to equalize, the pressure wasn't off—the last thing they needed was for this match to go to extra time. And try as they might to find a match-winner, the Giallorossi needed a helping hand from the officials, who awarded Roma a penalty after Leonardo Spinazzola was taken down in the box. Wasting no time, Dybala stepped up to the spot and absolutely buried the ball past Jungdal to give Roma the victory.

Paulo Dybala: 85th Minute (Roma 2, Cremonese 1)

Thanks to this victory, Roma advances to the quarterfinals, where they'll meet Lazio on January 8th