The Champions League was back in action on Wednesday night. This time the famous tournament featured matchups between K.A.A. Gent and VfL Wolfsburg in Belgium, and then a more high profile fixture between Roma and Madrid in the Italian capital. After a thrilling contest between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain the previous night, fans had high hopes for another exciting clash when these two giants of European football took the field. Would it live up to the hype?
In the opening 45 minutes, it felt like both teams were still trying to feel out the opposition. The first half was defined by Real Madrid having long stints of possession, while Roma were content with hoping for a quick counter attack to unhinge the visitors’ defense. Stephen El Shaarawy had the first resemblance of a scoring opportunity in the 17th minute only for his close-range effort to fly high and wide.
Real Madrid’s first real look at goal just after the half hour mark was nearly a wonder strike. A cheeky lobbed pass from Cristiano Ronaldo took an enticing bounce for Marcelo just inside the left-hand side of the penalty area and the Brazilian’s volley flew just inches away from the side netting. El Shaarawy almost had a one-on-one chance against Keylor Navas in the final minutes of the half, but Raphaël Varane saved the day with a perfectly timed slide tackle.
The most dangerous player on the pitch through the opening 45 minutes had to be former Chelsea winger Mohammed Salah. The Egyptian’s electrifying pace on the right wing terrorized the Madrid backline, but unfortunately for Roma fans nothing came from Salah’s runs. After this incredibly uneventful first half, could either side manage to grab a crucial first leg goal?
Daniel Carvajal registered the first shot on target of the match just under ten minutes into the second half. The Spaniard’s lackluster attempt was quickly turned into a counter attack for Roma, and if it wasn’t for some great timing from Navas, El Shaarawy could’ve scored or gotten the keeper sent off. The thrilling start to the half came to a head moments later thanks to a brilliant finish from Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portuguese winger made a pacy run down the left wing and performed a classic chop to get some space on top of the box. His curled and slightly deflected effort left Wojciech Szcesny helpless and put Madrid up 1-0. This strike was the first time Ronaldo had scored away from the Santiago Bernabeu since way back in November.
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Ronaldo’s goal forced Roma to push for an equalizer and this gave Madrid even more space to work with in the attack. The attacking speed that the hosts showed through the opening 45 minutes was suddenly nowhere to seen, and it started to look more and more like Madrid could run away with the first leg.
After a somewhat quiet 15 minutes, Roma started to come alive and press the Madrid backline. Just like in the first half, Salah’s energetic runs down the wing sparked most of the Italians’ attacking moves. The Egyptian’s cross in the 71st minute eventually fell to William Vainqueur, and his thunderous strike flew just wide of the net. Less than a minute later, Madrid were on the counter and Ronaldo nearly had this second of the night, but his headed effort bounced harmlessly across the face of goal.
This rapid-fire exchange was quickly followed by another great chance for Madrid with Karim Benzema’s header getting blocked just inside the six-yard box. The thrilling end to the game continued in the 79th minute when substitute striker Edin Dzeko flashed a close-range chance into the side netting to give Roma hope of an equalizer. Madrid’s dagger came in the 85th minute thanks to another substitute striker. A long run from Jesé into the Roma penalty area ended with a powerful low strike into the back of the net to put Madrid up 2-0 with two vital away goals.
The result all but assures Real Madrid a spot in the quarterfinals. Roma not only have to win the second leg, they also have to come the two away goals allowed in the Italian capital. To make matters worse, no team that has lost the opening home leg by two goals or more has ever come back to advance to the next round. We won’t know for sure until the second leg on March 8th, but it will take a miracle for Roma to overcome Madrid.