Napoli fought back from 2-0 down, but Gervinho secured Roma’s 3-2 victory in the Coppa Italia semi-final first leg.
The second leg will be at the San Paolo on February 12 and the Partenopei have two away goals to count on. There were concerns over the state of the pitch after Roma-Parma was rained off on Sunday afternoon, as storms continued over the Capital. Francesco Totti started with Gervinho and Adem Ljajic, but Radja Nainggolan allowed Miralem Pjanic to rest. Napoli started January buys Anthony Reveillere and Jorginho.
When these sides last met in Serie A in October, Roma emerged with a 2-0 victory. Rafa Benitez was under pressure after a 3-0 defeat to Atalanta on Sunday.
It was an aggressive start from both sides and Lorenzo Insigne sprung the offside trap on a Marek Hamsik through ball, rolling across for Gonzalo Higuain, but Daniele De Rossi’s crucial intervention avoided the tap-in.
Roma broke the deadlock when Gervinho ran on to an inspired Totti through ball, outsprinted the two defenders and flicked the ball over the on-rushing Pepe Reina to deposit into an empty net.
Jose Maria Callejon and Gervinho showed their work ethic by rushing back for crucial defensive interventions in their own penalty areas. Totti’s piledriver stung Reina’s gloves, but Napoli lost Reveillere to a muscular problem.
Higuain’s angled drive flashed across the face of goal with Callejon sliding in just a fraction of a second too late.
Roma doubled their lead thanks to a moment of magic from Kevin Strootman, who unleashed a blockbuster from 31 metres that flew into the top corner with absolutely no chance for Reina. It was a missile from the Dutch midfielder.
Nainggolan curled off target, but was then booked and will be suspended for the second leg. Morgan De Sanctis smothered a shot from his former teammate Insigne and Gervinho again burst down the right, but he hesitated to set up Totti unmarked and by the time he passed to Douglas Maicon the angle was too narrow, so the Brazilian hit the side-netting.
Cristian Maggio went round Vasilis Torosidis, but at full stretch the defender got enough of a touch to allow De Sanctis to close it down.
Straight after the restart, Napoli got back into the game and the tie with an away goal. Insigne threaded through for Higuain, whose pull-back turned into a shot with the aid of a deflection off Mehdi Benatia’s shin and De Sanctis pawed the ball into his own net. It was the first goal conceded by Roma on home turf in over nine hours of competitive football.
Adem Ljajic hit a snapshot from distance that Reina palmed round the base of the near post, then moments later the Serbian fired again just wide. De Sanctis blocked a powerful Ghoulam free kick, Ljajic hit the side-netting and Insigne tested the Roma goalkeeper as it was end-to-end stuff.
Reina flew to pluck a deflected Torosidis effort out of the near top corner, but Napoli completed their comeback from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at the Olimpico.
Dries Mertens had only been on the pitch for five minutes when he dribbled through the middle of the Giallorossi defence and blasted his finish past De Sanctis.
Valon Behrami made his comeback almost two months after suffering from a micro-fracture to his toe.
Roma restored their lead in the final minutes when Gervinho sprung the offside trap from an Alessandro Florenzi sliderule pass and kept his cool to fire in at the near post. It was the Ivory Coast international’s second of the game, but Florenzi and Mattia Destro had combined brilliantly in the build-up.
Ghoulam’s dipping free kick from over 30 metres tested De Sanctis, as it was still wide open to the final whistle.
Roma 3-2 Napoli
Scorers: Gervinho 13, 87 (R), Strootman 32 (R), Higuain 47 (N), Mertens 70 (N)
Roma: De Sanctis; Maicon, Benatia, Castan, Torosidis; Nainggolan (Pjanic 59), De Rossi, Strootman; Ljajic (Florenzi 72), Totti (Destro 65), Gervinho
Napoli: Reina; Maggio, Fernandez, Albiol, Reveillere (Ghoulam 24); Inler, Jorginho; Insigne, Hamsik (Mertens 65), Callejon; Higuain (Behrami 84)