The Great Roma European Adventure Is Rolling But Will It Soon Combust Into Hellfire?

AS Roma’s 1-0 victory over Qarabag in Champions League group play put the finishing touches on a remarkable progression for the Eternal City club. Coupled with Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid in Tuesday’s other Group C match, Roma now finish atop the group and will face a runners-up opponent in the Round of 16.

This all stands in stark contrast to the team’s Champions League campaign last season: a 4-1 aggregate defeat to FC Porto in the playoff round, including a humiliating 3-0 self-destruction at home. Roma were then dumped out by Lyon in the Europa League Round of 16, foretelling absolutely nothing with regards to this season’s European adventure.

Placed alongside English champions Chelsea, 2015-16 UCL runners-up Atletico Madrid and a Qarabag side utilizing home crowds of nearly 70,000 at the Baku Olympic Stadium, Roma’s path to the Round of 16 was always going to be a fiendish one.

But with the dust now settled, Roma have clinched first while succumbing to only a single defeat, a 2-0 loss at the Wanda Metropolitano to a desperate Atletico side. They defeated Qarabag twice, experienced a rollicking 3-3 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge before smashing them 3-0 at the Stadio Olimpico and have secured passage to the last 16 for only the second time in seven years. 

So Roma will take on the role of favorites next round by virtue of their finish, although a draw against Bayern Munich or Real Madrid would certainly call that into question.

This is a club that hasn’t advanced to the quarterfinals of the Champions League since 2007-08 despite its recent standing as the second-best side in Italy. After selling Mohamed Salah and Antonio Rudiger in the summer (as well as the retirement of Francesco Totti), the team has somehow pushed on in Europe with the help of some unlikely heroes.

32-year-old fullback Aleksandar Kolarov has proven an inspirational signing for the Giallorossi. 29-year-old Argentine Diego Perotti is in the midst of his finest season as a professional. 25-year-old Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson looks like the real deal.

Roma advance to Champions League Round of 16

Diego Perotti: more than just a great neck tattoo. Photo: @ASRomaData | Twitter

Add the proven quality of Edin Dzeko, Radja Nainggolan, Stephan El Shaarawy and Kevin Strootman and you can see how Roma managed to usurp both Atletico and Chelsea this season.

Drawing Roma in the Round of 16 won’t terrify any opponent, but Roma won’t be in awe of any opposition either. After years of frightening fragility in European competition, this side has proven that they can compete with anyone.  

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