Reaching a first semi-final since 1984 is a task for Roma, no matter how many gladiators are there to support them
Quiet night for Lionel Messi even as Barcelona ride on luck to beat Roma in Uefa Champions League quarter-final
A below-par Barcelona beat Roma 4-1 thanks to two own goals, a third from defender Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez’s first European goal in over a year. Roma’s Edin Dzeko scored an 80th-minute consolation which will give his side a slim hope ahead of the second leg in Rome.
Roma, who lost 6-1 on their last visit, were more assured while the Catalans, who had been eliminated at the last eight stage in three of the past four years took time to find their stride as they pressured from the start in an eerily flat atmosphere which took time to build.
Barcelona posters around the city welcomed Roma but warned them to expect 100,000 gladiators. It was not quite like that, not even when Lionel Messi, presented with an award for 100 Champions League goals before the game, shot from outside the area after ten minutes which goalkeeper Alisson Becker struggled to hold.
Messi’s nemesis Ronaldo had starred against Italian opponents the previous evening, but Messi had a rare off night where he did not score or assist a goal.
At the other end, Edin Dzeko appealed for a ninth-minute penalty and while Roma were otherwise under constant pressure, they retained their composure and held out until the 37th minute when their captain Daniele de Rossi intercepted a pass from Andres Iniesta to Messi. De Rossi connected with the ball – and shot right past his own goalkeeper.
There was an audible "wooah" when the scoreline was flashed up from Anfield at half time, though it would not be long before Barcelona were leading 3-0 at home themselves.
Roma had a superb chance to equalise seconds after the restart when Diego Perotti directed a free header wide of Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s goal. He cursed, as well he might – you have to take your chances against a side who have not been beaten at home in 25 Champions League games. Unlucky Roma also saw a penalty appeal turned down after a foul on Lorenzo Pellegrini was given outside the penalty area.
That would soon be 26 as Barca, playing in the last eight for the 11th consecutive season, scored their second after 57 minutes.
Ivan Rakitic, who had hit the woodwork with a first half shot, crossed hard and low towards defender Samuel Umtiti, who met the ball, striking it against the post from six yards out. It rebounded back towards Umtiti and defender Kostas Manolas before spinning in for a second own goal. Umtiti, who wants a bigger contract and has been linked with a move from Barca, kissed the club badge.
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Barca were ascendant and Gerard Pique made it 3-0 after 57 minutes when Luis Suarez hit a shot which Becker failed to hold. Pique side-footed the ball into the net, but the score line did not reflect the reality. This was not a vintage Barca performance and well-organised Roma, backed by 3,000 travelling fans in the 90,106 crowd, were not poor.
The Italians, third in Serie A, had two more chances to score with 13 minutes left. Kevin Strootman has a chance, while Ter Stegen charged back towards his goal to save from substitute Gregoire Defrel. Barca’s goalkeeper then made a spectacular save from Perotti.
The goal was coming – and it came with 11 minutes left as the ever creative Perotti passed to Dzeko, who was being marked by Jordi Alba. The Bosnian held off his marker, took a touch and slid a shot past Ter Stegen.
When, with three minutes left, substitute Denis Suarez passed toward his namesake Luis, Roma’s Federico Fazio had a chance to clear it, but set up Suarez instead, who scored.
Roma manager Eusebio di Francesco described the 4-1 defeat was “unfair” and while he bemoaned the chances missed by his side, he said his side deserved two penalties.
Reaching a first semi-final since 1984 is a task, no matter how many gladiators are there to support them.