A close-range Diego Perotti header was enough for Roma to seal a tight 1-0 win over Qarabag and snatch top spot in Group C of the Champions League.
The Argentine’s second half goal, coupled with Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at home to Atletico Madrid, means the Giallorossi progress as group winners and join the English club in the next round.
A dogged Qarabag performance threatened to unravel an impressive Champions League campaign for the capital club. However, as nerves around the Stadio Olimpico grew, Perotti latched onto the rebound of an Edin Dzeko shot to head Roma to victory and secure a place in Monday’s Round of 16 draw.
Qarabag started confidently and showed great composure on the ball, whilst ensuring Roma were not afforded a sight of goal in the opening quarter of an hour.
The Giallorossi began to take a foothold in the game however, as Edin Dzeko smartly touched on a long-range Daniele De Rossi pass to clear space for the on-rushing Kevin Strootman. Only a superb Michel tackle from behind prevented the Dutchman from breaking into the box and firing Roma ahead.
Moments later, Stephan El Shaarawy received the ball from a short corner and whipped a low cross in from the edge of the box, but Kostas Manolas’ instinctive backheel was well stopped.
Roma were seeing more of the ball in the final third, and it took a strong block from goalkeeper Ibrahim Sehic to prevent compatriot Dzeko tapping in a low Aleksandar Kolarov cross at the back post.
Qarabag were posing a threat on the break though, and a rapid counter saw Dino Ndlovu in a one-against-two position. The South African was isolated and forced into a curling chipped effort, that was well held by Alisson.
With only five minutes remaining of the first-half, Roma were left wondering how they hadn’t taken the lead. Quick Kolarov feet drew a foul on the edge of the box, but the unmarked Manolas couldn’t guide his close range header on target from Perotti’s freekick.
On the stroke of half-time, Sehic performed a fine save to block Radja Nainggolan’s vicious drive from the edge of the box, having collected a loose corner. The Bosnian showed great reflexes to get to his feet and stop Kolarov’s follow-up.
Having started the second half full of attacking intent, the hosts finally broke the deadlock early on. A clever one-two with Strootman allowed Perotti to find Dzeko in the box. The striker’s low strike was well blocked by Sehic, but the ball looped into the air for Perotti to nod into an empty net.
The hosts came close to doubling their lead on the hour mark, only to be frustrated by the increasingly impressive Sehic. Nainggolan gave a glimpse of his repertoire by flicking the ball away from Michel with his right boot, before unleashing an accurate low volley with his left, but Sehic dived across well to parry clear at the bottom corner.
Roma were camped in Qarabag’s half and were driving forward in waves, looking to put the result beyond doubt. The dangerous Kolarov came close to finding the back of the net with a low freekick that whistled just wide.
Just as the Lupi were looking comfortable, they almost threw away their lead. Complacency at the back allowed Ndlovu to skip past Alessandro Florenzi and float in a cross, though whilst Michel managed to get in front of Federico Fazio, his close range header was straight at Alisson.
The wayward Dzeko had a fine opportunity to add gloss to the win in stoppage time, but but blasted well wide after Gerson played him through in the box.
Ultimately it would not prove costly, as the Giallorossi hung on for the win and sealed their spot at the top of the group.
- Roma have finished top of the table in the Champions League Group Stages for the first time since 2008/09
- The Giallorossi kept three clean sheets in their six matches this season – as many as they had kept in their previous 39 matches in the competition
- Diego Perotti has scored in each of his last two Champions League games at the Stadio Olimpico
- Prior to these, Perotti had only ever scored once in the Champions League, for Sevilla against CSKA Moscow in 2010
- Perotti created the most goalscoring chances (five) and completed the most dribbles (eight) in the match
- Roma conceded only four fouls, the lowest of any team in the competition this season
- The Lupi recorded their highest amount of possession (63%) since facing CSKA Moscow in 2014.