Philippe Mexes and Marco Borriello scored within two minutes of each other midway through the second half to help AS Roma overcome stiff resistance from Romanian side Cluj and earn a 2-1 win in the Champions League.
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Cluj stunned Roma 2-1 two years ago at the Stadio Olimpico in its Champions League debut and for long stretches Tuesday it looked like there might be a repeat.
But Mexes found the target in the 69th and Borriello doubled the lead in the 71st before Ionut Rada pulled one back for Cluj in the 78th.
Roma gained its first three points in Group E, while Cluj remained with three points after beating Basel in its opener.
"I’m very happy with the performance. We showed determination from the first second to the last," said Roma coach Claudio Ranieri. "When you meet these teams that are not as well known, (the media) makes it out to be an easy match. But there are no more squads that are easy to beat. Cluj has been at the top level for several years now."
Mexes scored by redirecting a corner kick through traffic inside the area, while the substitute Borriello used an impressive volley to find the target following a long forward pass from Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi.
Rada’s goal came with a header after a free kick from the left flank.
Cluj’s Ivory Coast striker Lacina Traore hit the woodwork once in each half. He banged a shot off the crossbar after Roma defender Nicolas Burdisso let him get by inside the area in the 31st, and the 20-year-old then hit the post with a shot from just beyond the area in the 52nd.
Also for the visitors, Portuguese goalkeeper Nuno Claro made a series of difficult saves before the scoring began.
"I think we deserved more, maybe a draw would have been a fairer result," said Sorin Cartu, who replaced Andrea Mandorlini as Cluj’s coach earlier this month. "In a competition like this, though, if you have chances you can’t miss them. Against a good team like Roma, full of great players, it’s normal that they’ll come back and hurt you.
"You can’t play around with your scoring chances, you’ve got to use them. We didn’t have that (clinical ability) like Borriello had. With just a few centimeters to spare he decided the game."
For Roma, the win confirmed the squad’s improving form only three days after a last-minute win over European champion Inter Milan, which snapped a streak of six disappointing performances to start the season.
The Giallorossi squandered an early lead and lost the Italian Super Cup 3-1 to Inter, then opened Serie A with a 0-0 draw at home with newly promoted Cesena.
After finishing with 10 men in a 5-1 loss to Cagliari, Roma then conceded two late goals in a 2-2 draw with Bologna and lost 2-1 at Brescia after again losing a man.
In Europe, Roma opened with a 2-0 loss to last season’s runner-up Bayern Munich.
The outlook has changed now, though, and coach Claudio Ranieri’s side has gained confidence.
Roma next hosts Basel on Oct. 19, while Cluj visits Bayern.