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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Roma will hope to emulate regional rivals Juventus ahead of Champions League clash with Shakhtar

Like the team from Turin shocked Tottenham in second leg of last-16 match, Italian capital side prepare to host Ukrainian side in bid to overturn 2-1 first-leg deficit

Roma have been in excellent form in the Serie A, rising up to third in the table. Alessandro di Meo / AP Photo
Roma have been in excellent form in the Serie A, rising up to third in the table. Alessandro di Meo / AP Photo

Around Roma, you express admiration for Juventus through gritted teeth.

Regional rivalry, a catalogue of contested transfers of players heading north, and decades of grudges and refereeing conspiracy theories make the Roma-Juve enmity fierce and raw.

So very few romanisti would have been openly cheering for the Italian champions as they fought back from behind to oust Tottenham Hotspur from the Uefa Champions League last week.

Yet there was quiet respect for their resolute spirit. That, Roma manager Eusebio di Francesco declares should be the example Roma follow on Tuesday night as they seek to reverse a 2-1 deficit from the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie at home to Shakhtar Donetsk.

“Juventus came out and showed their pedigree under pressure, they showed a really impressive character. It was a victory with a ‘die hard’ mentality. It’s an approach you hope Italian football tends to have, and I hope my team has it as much as anybody.”

Quite a battle cry, with its appeals to patriotism.

Roma pay tribute to Davide Astori

The differences between Juve in London and Roma now is that the club from the capital have 90 minutes to claw back the tie. Juve were 3-2 down with less than half an hour to go. Roma’s 90 minutes are at home.

“We need the supporters to be our 12th man,” said Di Francesco, aware that, although over 40,000 tickets had been sold by the weekend, there has been some grumbling from fan groups about the elevated prices for what is a portentous fixture.

Portentous because Roma have a glass ceiling to shatter. The club have not reached a European Cup quarter-final for a decade, their three previous last-16 ties finishing with the Italians second best to Arsenal, Real Madrid, and Shakhtar themselves, back in 2011.

Unlike Juve, Roma are not Champions League experts. Last season’s elimination to Porto in the August play-off round was a heavy blow to club’s esteem. Set next to that, the fact they topped arguably the most sturdy pool in the 2017/18 group stage, taking four points from Chelsea, represented real progress.

Di Francesco said they have a healthy momentum. Since the defeat to Shakhtar in Kharkiv three weeks ago, Roma bounced back from a home loss to AC Milan with a surprise 4-2 win at the then Serie A leaders Napoli. They followed that with Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Torino, an emphatic scoreline achieved without the suspended Edin Dzeko - the club’s leading marksman - who will return to spearhead the attack on Tuesday night.

“I want the Napoli match to be our turning point for the rest of the season,” said Di Francesco, whose side are third in the table - and three points clear of local rivals Lazio - thanks to a run of five wins in their last six league outings.

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Roma forward Edin Dzeko, right, will be back in the side for their Tuesday night game. Ciro Fusco / AP Photo
Roma forward Edin Dzeko, right, will be back in the side for their Tuesday night game. Ciro Fusco / AP Photo

A 1-0 win would be enough on Tuesday, a clean sheet preferred. Roma goalkeeper Alisson Becker marked at the weekend his 50th competitive match for Roma, a milestone he was pleased to pass without conceding.

Alisson, who can expect stand between the posts for Brazil come the World Cup, has impressively assumed the responsibility of marshalling Roma’s penalty area and being the effective first point of their counter-attacks since taking over the No 1 spot last summer from Wojciech Szczesny. He has burnished his reputation in European games this term, and Roma owe him for the fact they are in close catching-up distance to Shakhtar in this tie.

He can expect to be worked.

Alisson has in the past few days put time into further studying the free-kick technique of the Ukrainian team’s mercurial striker Fred. Roma’s keeper and Shakhtar’s dead-ball specialist, who struck a fabulous winner over the Roma wall, are international colleagues and former club mates at Internacional of Porto Alegre, although evidently not so close that one cannot still surprise the other.

Di Francesco said Roma lost some of their poise in Kharkiv.

“We can be a bit rushed, and that stops us making the most of our potential. But I feel sure we can cause them some problems.”