Given their performances this season in the Champions League, many believed the days of Roma capitulating with alarming ease in Europe was a thing of the past. Hazy memories of embarrassing score lines and broken players; a club that became the laughing stock around Italy, those embarrassments were thought to be associated with the Luciano Spalletti and Rudi Garcia eras at the club.
Well, the old Roma reappeared once again at the Metalist Stadium. Just to remind us that the mental fragilities that lie just beneath the surface are never truly banished.
And again, give their history of capitulations, this one is at least reversible. Thanks only to the heroics of Alisson, Eusebio Di Francesco’s men are in with a fighting chance of making it through to the quarter-final. Because after a decent first 45 minutes in Ukraine, Roma did indeed do a ‘Roma’.
The Brazilian stopper was simply magnificent, denying Marlos, Taison and Facundo Ferreyra from making it another night in toe with Manchester in 2007 or Barcelona in 2015.
There was a kind of inevitability about the manner in which Roma lost control of the game once Ferreyra punished slack Giallorossi defending in the 51st minute. You expected the home side to push on and gain the upper hand, and Roma would succumb to the pressure. And Roma indeed followed the script, as par for the course on European nights.
Yet it all started so brightly, Roma were composed throughout the first half and had several chances. Edin Dzeko spurned a glorious opportunity in the 20th minute, like so many he has wasted recently in Serie A. Cengiz Under, who has almost single-handedly prevented Roma from going the way of Inter since December, banked more credit to his ever-growing stature with his first Champions League goal, on his debut in this tournament.
Speaking after the game, Di Francesco was heavily critical of his side for the way they reacted after Ferreyra’s goal. Roma attempted to restrict further damage rather than going on the offensive at 1-1, but this only led to increasing Shakhtar pressure. The second goal, when it did arrive via the sumptuous left foot of Fred, was hardly surprising. For once, there was nothing Alisson could do about it.
Roma have it within them to turn the tie around on March 13. They collected seven points in the group stage at home and haven’t lost a European tie under the lights at the Olimpico in over a year.
A single goal is all that’s needed to advance, yet given their problems in trying to control matches and their willingness to psychologically collapse at the first sniff of trouble, you wouldn’t bet against the Ukrainians scoring again. The Giallorossi will need more than just Alisson to see them progress to the quarter-final for the first time in a decade.
Thanks to the brilliant Brazilian, however, it is still possible.