Roma Keep Champions League Hopes Alive with Win Against Bayer Leverkusen
AS Roma may currently be contending for the top spot in the 2015 – 2016 Serie A, but the Italian football club have been anything but dominant in the UEFA Champions League so far. Qualifying for the tournament based on a second-place Serie A finish last season, the Wolves have been disappointing in the event so far. Coming into the fourth week of UCL competition, Roma were at the bottom of Group E, with zero wins, two draws, and one loss. They needed a win against Bayer Leverkusen, and win they did meaning that Roma keep Champions League hopes alive.
The Group E Standings
AS Roma beat Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 in a Wednesday home fixture to boost their Group E stock. In fact, the victory was enough to boost the Wolves into second place in the group—though they have half of the point total (five) of the group leaders (defending champs FC Barcelona). With two games remaining in the Champions League group stage, Roma’s odds of beating both Leverkusen and other group opponents BATE Borisov to the knockout stage just went up markedly.
In fact, Roma have gotten a big helping hand from Barcelona in recent weeks, with the Spanish soccer giants flattening BATE Borisov 2-0 on October 20th and 3-0 on Wednesday. Those big losses leave BATE trailing far behind Roma and Bayer Leverkusen in terms of goal difference, and should make the path clearer for the Wolves.
Not that Roma will have an easy route ahead, though. They are only one point ahead of Bayer in the standings (and two points ahead of BATE) and will have to face Barca in their next group stage match, on November 20th. If the Wolves can force a similar outcome to their first Group E run-in with Barcelona—a September 16th home match that ended in a 1-1 draw—their advancement chances will only improve further.
Down to the Wire
In any case, with Barcelona already assured of a round of 16 spot, the competition in Group E will only become fiercer. And if what we’ve seen so far from the rest of the teams offers any indication, things are going to come down to the wire.
Roma’s win against Bayer Leverkusen was certainly a “down to the wire” type of contest. The Wolves had the home field advantage and snagged the first goal, with Mohamed Salah converting an Edin Dzeko assist just two minutes in. The home team even had a 2-0 advantage at one point, after Edin Dzeko tallied a second goal at the 29-minute mark. For a moment, it looked as if Roma were headed toward a decisive victory to make up for their slow UCL start.
Early in the second half, though, the visitors wormed their way back into the football game. Admir Mehmedi put Leverkusen on the board at the 46-minute mark, and a golden opportunity five minutes later allowed Javier Hernandez to equalize the score. Just like that Roma’s decisive victory was gone, replaced by a tense, do-or-die atmosphere.
In some ways, it was déjà vu for Roma. Two weeks ago, in their October 20th fixture against Bayer, the Wolves had been up a comfortable 4-2 with less than 20 minutes remaining on the clock. But Leverkusen scored two goals in quick succession (at 84 and 86 minutes, respectively) to equalize the score and force a 4-4 draw. The difference was that, this time, a draw would effectively end Roma’s chances at a round of 16 berth.
Then, at the 79-minute mark, with the time left in the soccer match quickly dwindling, the home team had the stroke of good luck they needed. Bayer Leverkusen captain Omer Toprak was shown a red card for pushing Salah and Roma’s Miralem Pjanic was given a penalty kick. It was a hugely important moment for the Wolves, one that would make the difference between exiting the Champions League early for the second year in a row. Pjanic held up under pressure, though, scoring the goal to give Roma a 3-2 victory.
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