Alessandro Florenzi scored a goal that will be talked about for the ages as AS Roma ground out a 1-1 Champions League draw with Barcelona on Wednesday night as Group E opened in the Stadio Olimpico.
The result left both sides two points behind Bayer Leverkusen, a 4-1 winner over BATE Borisov in the other group opener, and was probably an outcome that left the home side much the happier of the two.
”It’s a draw that’s worth as much as a victory,” Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi said.
Article continues below ...
Luis Suarez headed Barcelona into the lead just 21 minutes into play but the defending European champions sputtered rather than mesmerized in the first match of their title defense. Roma lost goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to injury early in the second half but maintained its defensive posture and kept a tight grip on the visiting attack even while allowing Barcelona the lion’s share of possession.
Florenzi’s goal came from just inside the attacking half in the 31st minute when he made Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen pay for straying too far off his line. It did more than amaze the crowd because it allowed Roma to continue its defensive posture on a night when they should have been chasing the match due to Suarez’s goal.
Barcelona simply could not find the usual fluidity in the final-pass department and seemed unable to vary its approach. Even as it became apparent that the Roma intent was not to yield — even if that meant any attacks were so rare as to be hardly noticed at the other end of the field — Barcelona was lacking.
Lionel Messi, playing in his 100th Champions League match, was very much at the center of everything Barcelona tried to create, but he was unable to involve either Suarez or Neymar in the action near the box as Roma kept everything very cluttered in the central areas. The result was a contest of wills, Barcelona playing its patient, possession game with plenty of switching from one side to the other on attack, even though the angles for making runs were virtually non-existent.
Thanks to Florenzi’s wonder goal, Roma did not have to open things up and was even more defensive in the second half in pursuit of a vital opening-night point. There often were six Roma defenders inside the box and there was virtually no service for Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah, supposedly the point men of what turned out to be an imaginary attack.
Barcelona didn’t look particularly threatening until Suarez unlocked the door in the 20th minute, then punched it in in the 21st. The goal came a minute after Antonio Ruediger timed his tackle perfectly to beat Suarez deep in the box on the right, a move that showed Barcelona where it could attack with crisp effectiveness.
In the next movement, with Messi backing into Lucas Digne to send the Roma defender tumbling, the right flank was wide open again, this time for Ivan Rakitic to receive a crossfield pass and head for the byeline. Rakitic didn’t try for a near post shot but crossed perfectly to the far post for the Uruguayan to drive a bullet header into the top net from point-blank range.
There was a hint of another Barcelona goal two minutes later, but Szczesny came alertly off his line to the right, dove at Suarez’s feet and beat the goal-scorer without making any contact. A touch on the Uruguayan might have led referee Bjorn Kuipers to think of awarding a penalty.
Roma had not even managed a shot and Barcelona looked to be in complete control when Florenzi scored his goal-of-the-competition contender.
”You can concede a goal when you least expect it, as we showed,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. ”But it was a very good match for Barcelona and I’m very satisfied with what I saw on the pitch.”
The Roma man collected in his own half, made the start of a wide right run, then crossed the halfway line and spotted ter Stegen off his goal line. Florenzi instantly saw and measured the chance, letting fly on the run from about two strides into the attacking half of the field.
It was a spectacular piece of finishing, a measured attempt — not simply a kick-and-hope approach from such long range. The drive from near the right touchline flew over the back-pedaling ter Stegen and hit the inside of the far left post before nestling into the empty net.
”It will be something to remember,” Florenzi said. ”It’s not something that happens often.”
Roma lost Szczesny just two minutes after the interval and just after he had made a pair of fine saves. The first was a reaction block on a drive from Messi, the second when he dove at Suarez’s feet as the striker tried to reach a cross from Jordi Alba. Ruediger was also involved in a three-way bit of contact that left the Roma keeper with an apparent hand or wrist injury and brought the veteran Morgan De Sanctis off the bench to take over in goal.
Barcelona also suffered an injury, substitute Rafinha brought down by Nainggolan and suffering damage to his leg after he had been Luis Enriquez’ first change, replacing Rakitic. He was stretchered off just 90 seconds after having come on, so when Javier Mascherano took over it was two changes for Barcelona in the space of two minutes.
Mascherano escaped conceding a penalty just minutes after he came on, replays clearly showing that he had Nainggolan wrapped up deep in the box, right in front of the goal line official, in fact.
Messi nearly got Barcelona back on top in the 78th minute when he beat De Sanctis only to see his shot from the right hit the crossbar and bound away out of danger.
But the chances were truly few in the closing phase, Roma’s resilience unbroken and Barcelona’s ideas simply not effective enough.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.