Nicolò Zaniolo scored a sensational brace, his first Champions League goals, as Roma beat Porto 2-1 in the Round of 16 first leg.
The Giallorossi reached the semi-finals last season, but hosted a Porto side who were unbeaten in the current Champions League campaign, winning five in a row going into this first leg of the Round of 16. Roma went out to the Portuguese club in both previous meetings, most recently the 2016 Champions League preliminary round with a 3-0 defeat here, in which Daniele De Rossi and Emerson Palmieri were sent off.
Robin Olsen was only fit for the bench, so Antonio Mirante made only his second Champions League game, with Cengiz Under, Patrik Schick, Diego Perotti and Rick Karsdorp out of action. Kostas Manolas and Daniele De Rossi shook off problems to start in a Roma XI with seven Italians. Porto missed top scorer Moussa Marega, striker Vincent Aboubakar and Jesus Corona, who was suspended as punishment for purposefully getting himself banned in the final group game.
The hosts didn’t make the most of two promising early counter-attacks, with the final pull-back intercepted in a slightly panicked fashion, as Yacine Brahimi risked an own goal on Edin Dzeko’s cross.
Pepe kicked the ball on to his own hand right on the edge of the area, but a silent check from the VAR booth – a novelty for the Champions League Round of 16 – confirmed it was unintentional.
Iker Casillas flapped at an Aleksandar Kolarov cross and Lorenzo Pellegrini’s rebound was straight at the veteran goalkeeper. Fernando Soares also scuffed a finish into Mirante’s arms, while Pellegrini’s free kick flashed inches past the heads of both Kostas Manolas and Federico Fazio and Felipe’s decisive interception stopped El Shaarawy going clear on goal.
Dzeko thought he’d scored on 38 minutes when he cut back inside past a defender with his left foot and blasted on to the upright with his right boot.
After the restart, Bryan Cristante turned brilliantly between defenders on a Zaniolo through ball to sting the gloves of Casillas from 10 yards.
However, Porto also came very close, as Danilo Pereira’s towering header from a corner flashed inches wide of the far post.
Pellegrini tested Casillas twice from distance, but on both occasions went too central. The deadlock was broken on 70 minutes when Dzeko knocked on an El Shaarawy cross, Zaniolo took one touch and drilled into the far bottom corner with his right boot under the defender’s legs. It was the 19-year-old’s first Champions League goal.
That was very swiftly followed by his second six minutes later, as Dzeko went on the counter and saw his low strike bounce off the upright, but into the path of Zaniolo to score on the rebound.
It was almost a hat-trick, his volley at the back post on a corner finding the gloves of Casillas, but then Porto got one back with a strangely lucky goal.
Adrian Lopez knocked down a long ball for Tiquinho Soares, whose volley was so bad that it bounced off the ground, defelected up and turned into an idea assist for Adrian Lopez to finish it off.
Suddenly it was wide open, as Hector Herrera’s sensational curler took a coat of paint off the far top corner and Roma looked increasingly exhausted. Kolarov still almost added a third on the counter, but his shot smacked Casillas in the face at the near post.
They can only hope the away goal does not prove decisive in the tie, but it is the first time Roma have ever beaten Porto.
Roma 2-1 Porto
Zaniolo 70, 76 (R), Adrian Lopez 79 (P)
Roma: Mirante; Florenzi, Manolas, Fazio, Kolarov; Cristante, De Rossi, Pellegrini (Nzonzi 83); Zaniolo (Florenzi 87), Dzeko, El Shaarawy (Kluivert 89)
Porto: Casillas; Eder Militao, Pepe, Felipe, Telles; Herrera, Danilo Pereira, Fernando (Andre Pereira 76); Otavio (Hernani 84), Soares, Brahimi (Adrian Lopez 68)
Ref: Makkelie (NED)