STADIO OLIMPICO (Rome) – A resilient and courageous AS Roma Women only just fell to a 1-0 defeat against Barcelona Femeni in the first leg of their Women’s Champions League quarter-final at the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday night, playing in front of a record attendance of 39,454 for an Italian women’s football match and for the first time at the men’s home stadium.
In what was Barcelona’s 14th game of 2023, Roma became just the second team to limit them to fewer than three goals, with their previous results since January being 5-1, 4-0, 5-0, 4-0, 7-0, 4-0, 6-0, 7-0, 3-0, 3-1, 3-0, a 1-0 Copa loss to Osasuna, and another 4-0 win.
Despite suffering in the early stages, Roma really found their feet in the second half and, by the end, they were probably deserving of more than a narrow, spirited defeat. The Giallorosse had chances, but the Catalans took theirs when they weren’t denied by a phenomenal Camelia Ceasar in goal.
The entirety of the first half must have seemed like an eternity for the Giallorosse, who were unable to keep hold of the ball through a combination of Barcelona’s relentlessness with their press, but also due to some apparent jitters playing on such a stage, with attendance confirmed as a record-breaking 39,454 for Italian women’s football.
Whether it was the usually pinpoint Giada Greggi, Carina Wenninger or Moeka Minami, Roma’s usual cool heads were more than just a little under pressure and struggling to cope in possession. To their credit, they mostly settled, but the task of handling their visitors didn’t get any more manageable.
Wenninger, in particular, was a wall at the back and, along with Camelia Ceasar behind her, was increasing the Catalans’ frustrations every few minutes with a well-timed interception or challenge, as Ceasar was showing good hands and bravery.
Rare early ventures forward
The Olimpico gave the Giallorosse their full backing, and on the rare occasions that Roma managed to get out of their half in the opening 45 minutes, the near-40,000 roared them on in excitement. Emilie Haavi tried to test Sandra Panos in the Barcelona goal but fired way off target, and Valentina Giacinti got in behind on one occasion only for her cross to be dealt with as she got to the byline.
Giacinti’s task was thankless, pressing and making off-the-ball runs to open up options without ever really being found, and that boiled over as she went to ground while Roma were looking to break with only Greggi and the no.9. The Italy forward claimed to have been fouled, but a couple of Roma players switched off expecting either a foul or for the ball to have gone out of play, and that was all Barcelona needed to pounce – a couple of passes later they were on the edge of the hosts’ box and Salma Paralluelo curled into the bottom corner on 34 minutes.
Camelia Superstar Ceasar
Ceasar then made the game her own for a while. She had to be alert and at her reactive best early in the second half to claw what looked to be a certain goal for Asisat Oshoala away as it crept toward the bottom corner. She was again called upon to bravely gather a corner as Oshoala crashed into her, and Ceasar came out on top again as Oshoala headed into the ground and the Romanian somehow reacted to turn it over the crossbar.
At the other end, Annamaria Serturini gave Barcelona something to concern themselves with as she set off on a typical run down the left, then teeing up Giacinti who had her effort deflect over the crossbar.
Then Roma managed to do what very few teams have been capable of this season – they had Barcelona’s backs against the wall. The Serie A Femminile leaders found a bit of confidence. Vicky Losada and Benedetta Glionna’s introductions injected a little more life into their counterattacks, and the latter forced Panos into two saves from the left. The second, though, she’ll feel she might have done more with as she found herself in the box after being put through by Giacinti.
Andressa Alves had perhaps the biggest Roma chance, at least until that point. A cross dropped in a crowded area and fell to her feet, she took time to settle and shift it, but her effort went just wide of Panos’ goal and let the goalkeeper off the hook.
On her 100th Roma appearance, Manuela Giugliano forced a world-class save from Panos as a fierce long-range shot looked destined for the top corner in a chance that was again created down the left. Giugliano then had a shot blocked that Roma claimed hit a hand, though a VAR check suggested otherwise. Clearly encouraged, the Olimpico reacted and the roof was lifted as the near-40,000 roared the Giallorosse on for the final stretch.
That push very nearly paid dividends when, deep into stoppage time, Giacinti was put through one-on-one to the right of the box. Her effort, though, was relatively tame and Panos turned it behind for a corner that came to nothing, and the equaliser just wasn’t to come.
A 1-0 defeat leaves the tie alive ahead of the return leg at the Camp Nou on Wednesday, March 28. Meanwhile, it is Roma’s rest week in the Serie A Femminile Scudetto Pool, giving them a long run at the second leg in Barcelona.