If you wanted to sum up a season in one game, this wasn’t a bad effort. There was plenty to admire – most notably two magical goals from wonderkid Nicolò Zaniolo – but ultimately a feeling of frustration. Despite the victory, the celebrations were a little subdued in the Stadio Olimpico. It was a good result but, deep down, everybody knew it should have been better.
This has been Roma for much of this season, but we saw the full gamut of their personalities in one match. There was the grit and determination of Daniele De Rossi, a marvelous masterclass in the forward’s art from Edin Dzeko and some tumultuous celebration in the Curva Sud.
But there was also – thanks in no little part to misfortune – a nervous conclusion, some shaky defending and a splash of self-doubt that was so brilliantly banished in last season’s Champions League. Qualification is still there for the taking, but fans of the Giallorossi with any fingernails are unlikely to retain them during the return leg on March 6. Any result is wide open when they meet at the Estadio do Dragao.
It has been clear for large parts of this campaign that Eusebio Di Francesco’s side are low on belief and high on insecurity. It took one highly fortuitous assist that Adrian Lopez converted to undermine the delight constructed by their 19-year-old talent. This is a team that wears its emotional fragility on its sleeve.
They started the night with a good tempo, but began to look like they might be frustrated when Dzeko struck the woodwork after a neat twist and turn. However, in the second half they turned up the gas and their gifted young Tuscan took centre-stage. In truth, he had already looked the man most likely to turn things in their favour and he duly did.
Fans of the capital club were delirious, while Italy boss Roberto Mancini – despite his Laziale past – was grinning from ear to ear. There are reasons for both to be cheerful in Zaniolo’s rapid development into a class performer at the highest level.
This was Roma in full flight, but they could not quite maintain their stranglehold on the tie – an affliction which has troubled them so much this term. Just when you think they are back on the right track, something pulls them off course. This time around it was what looked like a mis-hit shot from Tiquinho Soares that ended up falling perfectly into the stride of a substitute to leave progress in the balance. Porto appeared more than capable of getting the result they need on home soil.
It will be up to the coaching staff at the Serie A side to do their best psychological work in the weeks between now and the return fixture and accentuate the positive. There was plenty to be impressed with in this display and it should not be washed away by the ultimately narrow margin of the success.
If this team believes in itself, then it can easily achieve the goal of another spot in the quarter-finals of Europe’s top club competition. And they owe it to their new talisman not to let his latest magnificent performance turn out to be in vain.
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Football Italia staff