Roma’s hopes of topping their Champions League group were dashed as Real Madrid ran out 2-0 winners at the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday to end the Lupi’s eight-match unbeaten home run in the competition.
Second-half goals from Gareth Bale and Lucas Vazquez were enough to assure the Spanish side first place in Group G with a game to spare, thanks to their superior head-to-head record over Roma, but Eusebio di Francesco’s side were nevertheless guaranteed a place in the knockout stages because of Viktoria Plzen’s win away to CSKA Moscow.
The Giallorossi had the better of the first half, but it was Madrid who threatened first as Robin Olsen adjusted his weight to block a deflected Luka Modric shot with his legs.
Patrik Schick and Justin Kluivert, who was brought off the bench for the injured Stephan El Shaarawy after just 22 minutes, both squandered promising opportunities before Roma failed to capitalise on a string of great chances. The ball broke to Schick inside the box and his close-range effort was blocked by Thibaut Courtois, before Aleksandar Kolarov’s rasping drive from range whistled past the post.
The best was yet to come though, as on the stroke of half time Nicolo Zaniolo’s cross found an unmarked Cengiz Under six yards out, but the Turk’s composure abandoned him as he blasted his finish over.
They were immediately made to pay for their profligacy in the second half as Bale gave the visitors the lead. Olsen’s awkward clearance was headed back towards him by Federico Fazio but instead fell to the Welshman, who duly slotted into the corner.
The Spanish side continued to show the clinical edge that has seen them crowned European champions for the last three years as they doubled their advantage just before the hour mark. Bale’s cross found Karim Benzema at the back post and the Frenchman’s knock-down gave Vazquez a tap-in.
Roma must sharpen edges
Without doubt, this game could have gone differently on another night. Roma’s first half performance delighted the large Olimpico crowd as they pressed, harried and threatened the defending European champions. That is, they were delighted until the finish.
Patrik Schick failed to beat Thibaut Courtois from six yards, albeit in a crowded box. The Czech youngster had earlier scuffed a decent chance, while Justin Kluivert blazed over a promising opening. But the worst was still to come, as Cengiz Under inexplicably hammered over a golden opportunity on the brink of half time under no pressure whatsoever.
It was a night of harsh lessons for the Rossoneri and particularly their young forward and inexperienced forward line of Schick, Kluivert, Under and Nicolo Zaniolo not far behind. After the break, Real reset and put away the chances they were afforded, showing their undoubted champion quality.
It is a lesson Roma’s younger players could do with learning from as they head into the knockout stages and went some way to underlining the importance of Edin Dzeko on these big European nights.