Wins for Roma and Milan put smile back on the face of Italian football

Italian football has been in desperate need of a little pick-me-up in Europe for a good few months, and Tuesday evening provided it in the best possible manner – AS Roma’s fight-back from two-nil down to defeat Bayern Munich.

Serie A’s Champions League representatives had so far failed to overcome their main continental rivals so far this campaign – Roma having already in Munich, AC Milan coming up short to La Liga kingpins Real Madrid and Inter falling flat on their faces against the Premier League’s very own Tottenham Hotspur.

With the Milanese sides up against French and Dutch opposition in the penultimate round of group stage matches, the pick of the games from an Italian perspective was always going to be the Romans at home to last year’s finalists.

Of course, the Bundesliga side had already made safe their passage to the knock-out stages as group winners and were shorn of big guns Mark Van Bommel, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Arjen Robben, which does put things into perspective somewhat, but at least the final outcome provided succour in times of need.

It seemed for a time that it was more a case of suckers for punishment, as the Romans handed Bayern two quick-fire goals after their own period of sustained, but ultimately fruitless, pressure.

With Mirko Vucinic unwilling to track back and Jeremy Menez causing more problems for his own side when he did, Roma conceded wide open tracks of space to the visitors who were more than happy to populate in numbers.

The territorial advantage had been lost, which was very unlike Claudio Ranieri’s side in recent times – with their recent seven game undefeated run built around masterful possession and razor-sharp incursions into the opposition final third.

Granted, the two best passers were on the bench, but Francesco Totti and in particular David Pizarro had already missed games along the way without the team looking so disjointed and bereft of the ball.

In all honesty it could have been at least 4-1 to the Bavarians at the break and no one would have batted an eyelid, but at least Ranieri had fifteen minutes to go batty at his players and no doubt Menez felt the sharp end of the Roman’s tongue lash.

It needed a bit more of the sword and less of the sandals if there was to be the kind of epic comeback  required to ensure qualification remained in Giallorossi hands going into the final group game.

The French winger could never be described as gladiatorial, but it was his stirring run and cross for Marco Borriello to score the first goal that galvanised both the home team and its supporters who certainly played their part from the stands roaring their approval at every turn.

Roma legend Bruno Conti has claimed that Menez is a better player than he ever was, but there was always one thing that the 1982 World Cup winner did right and that was the basics.

As long as he is gliding forward, Menez is indeed magical, but anywhere near his own goal he becomes mesmerising in all the wrong ways as witnessed by the air-head pass to Daniele De Rossi on the edge of the Giallorossi area which lead to Bayern’s second goal.

Ranieri pointed the former Monaco man in the right direction – down the right flank - and with Vucinic hugging the left suddenly it was wing command taking control.

With Borriello unnerving the backline, the scene was set to drive the sword home and for Totti to make the sort of entry that we will become more accustomed to – a 15-minute cameo of sublime touches and defence-splitting passes and to cap it all, the winning goal.

Local Roman newspaper il Messaggero summed up a evening that Ranieri described as “historic” perfectly: “It was a virtuoso performance from the soloists that demands a standing ovation from the whole of Italy.”

Also playing the happy beat were AC Milan, who secured their runners-up spot behind Real with a routine 2-0 win at Auxerre. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s absolute blinding strike and Ronaldinho’s own cameo performance rounded off with a perfectly-placed curler also helped put the smile back on the face of Italian football – well until Inter play at least.

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