Roma gifted Barcelona a pair of own goals in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal. Barca head to Italy with a commanding lead.
It was a rough trip to Catalonia for Roma. The Italian club went to Spain hoping to at least get an away goal and play Barca close. And for nearly the entire first half, the Romans managed to keep the Blaugrana in check.
Roma looked ready to put themselves into position to make it to their first semifinal since the ’80s. The Giallorossi made it all the way to the 1984 final, where they lost 4-2 on penalties to Liverpool after the clubs went 1-1 over 120 minutes. For much of the first half, they looked poised to get back to semis.
The visitors challenged for long stretches of the first half, pouncing on the opening kickoff and taking the initiative. Roma probably deserved a penalty in the ninth minute, when Edin Dzeko was taken down by Nelson Semedo.
Barcelona eventually recovered from their sluggish start and enjoyed several strong efforts on goal that challenged Roma goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
But repeated carelessness will cost any underdog hoping for an upset.
Even after Daniele De Rossi beat his own keeper in the 38th minute, Roma still looked capable of taking down their hosts. But the gaffe wasn’t the first time they nearly put one into their own net. Twenty minutes earlier, Dzeko barely got his feet out of the way of a low Ivan Rakitic strike that hit the woodwork.
De Rossi had the misfortune of inaccuracy as he tried to clear the ball before it could get to Lionel Messi. It was a forgivable mistake, given that Messi would likely have scored from the position.
A second own goal by Kostas Manolas within 10 minutes of the restart was even more unlucky. Pressured off a cross by Rakitic, Manolas got to the ball just before Samuel Umtiti. The ball ricocheted off the post and back off Manolas into the net. Gerard Pique piled things on in the 59th minute with an easy tap-in after Alisson parried away a Luis Suarez shot.
Dzeko managed to pull back a goal, giving Roma late hope. But Suarez wasn’t to be denied on Wednesday night in Barcelona. El Mordedor capitalized on a clumsy clearance attempt in the 87th minute to put Barca up 4-1. The goal ended a 10-game Champions League scoring drought for Suarez.
Can Roma recover from its Camp Nou collapse when Barça comes to Italy? Three goals is no small deficit. But as Barcelona themselves proved last year in the round of 16, even a four-goal deficit is hardly insurmountable. Roma missed a couple of golden opportunities. They also shot themselves in the foot a couple of times with unfortunate errors.
In many ways, it’s hard to call the two own goals by De Rossi and Manolas errors in judgment. When the ball is coming in on a cross, a defender is trained to clear it away before it can get to an opponent in scoring position. Both Roma players did just that. Instinct is what got the Italians this far in the tournament. Being able to rely on that instinct in the return match will require short memories.
Radja Nainggolan, one of Roma’s best players, could be back after missing the contest with a nagging injury. Barcelona took advantage of a less-than-full-strength Roma side.
Six days is a short turnaround for Champions League teams, though. While Barcelona showed that it’s possible to come back from such a big deficit, it will be tough for Roma to keep the Catalan visitors entirely off the scoreboard. That lone away goal means winning 4-1 would put the two teams into extra time. And it’s hard to imagine even a full-strength Roma side getting four goals against Barca.
Instead, the Spanish squad are almost assured of passage through to the Champions League semifinals. Amazingly, it would be Barcelona’s first trip to the final four of the tournament since winning it all in 2015.
Suarez is heating up at just the right moment. Rakitic has been a catalyst for the offense. And Messi is still Messi, as dangerous as ever.
Had the Romans managed to leave Spain with a 2-1 deficit, dreams of the semifinals would have been reasonable. But those two own goals will haunt them even if both would have almost certainly been goals anyway had the ball reached its intended target. Because of those two additional albatrosses, home fans in the Italian capital are likely to leave the Stadio Olimpico disappointed next Tuesday.