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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Red Devils Send AS Roma To Hell

Before the game, Francesco Totti of AS Roma, never known for his tact, said "I don't like English football, and I don't like England. It is always dark there." He also said "This game is more important than a World Cup final." He may not like English football, but the only thing darker than the Manchester night was the performance of the Romans. Totti needs to be reminded that the only thing more important than a World Cup final is another one.

The game was over in the first 20 minutes after three goals by Manchester United (Carrick, Smith, and Rooney). Last week, Man U exposed some holes in the Roma defense. Tonight, they put on a footballing clinic against a usual tightly-guarded Italian defensive scheme. Before this game, Roma had only conceded five goals in Champions League play. In fact, in a pre-game interview, Wayne Rooney said "It is like playing chess against them." But tonight, from the Brasilian keeper, Cristiano Doni, to his back four of Panucci, Chivu, Mexes, Cassetti, the Romans were outclassed and looked like a side unworthy of a Champions League quarterfinal match. They gave too much space to the English, and their defensive postures, or lack thereof, were a sad sight to behold. Not to say that they didn't battle; however, the spirit and fluid play demonstrated six days ago in Rome was a distant memory at Old Trafford.

Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a formation of one lone striker with three supporting players. Roma usually plays with no striker. The tactics of the English seemed to confuse them. Most of the goals were scored on counter-attacks, which is a staple of Italian calcio. Luciano Spalletti, the coach of AS Roma, appeared to be as shellshocked as his players. Perhaps a lesson learned for the man who one day may sit on the Azzurri bench. He has led AS Roma further in European competition than anyone since 1984. When asked if he should have done anything differently, he replied with his usual candor, "I would have stayed at home!" (1)

In the second half, the onslaught continued with two goals by Cristiano Ronaldo (who had an astonishing nine shots on goal), another by Michael Carrick, and #7 by one of the young substitutes, Patrick Evra. De Rossi scored a fine goal that will soon be forgotten to avoid the shutout. This was a record performance for Manchester United in the Champions League. They will meet the winner of the Bayern Munich x AC Milan in the semi-final round. With Chelsea's win over Valencia at the Mestalla, an all-English final becomes a distinct possibility.

The only positive event for Roma was the injury time substitution that brought on Stefano Okaka Chuka, a 17 year old youth team product. He may be one of the youngest players to feature in a Champions League knock-out match.

Video highlights: Manchester United 7 x AS Roma 1

Reference

(1) Spalletti: We Lost Our Heads. Football Italia, 10 April 2007.

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