Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Heartbreak on the Break
The Italian club is regularly touted as one of the best defensive sides in Europe. They have conceded a measly number of goals in their previous Champions' League games this season.
And yet they simply panicked after the initial flurry of goals, and made the most embarrassing exit from the competition since Juventus destroyed the previously untouchable Ajax side of the mid-nineties in the 1997 semi-final.
It was particularly ironic that Roma looked the better side in the opening exchanges, and went close to scoring on a couple of occasions.
What the extraordinary game underlined yet again, in my view, was the crucial importance of being able to play with urgency and precision on the break. The first Manchester United goal was largely the result of poor tracking in midfield and abysmal positioning from the goalkeeper Doni; the second was simply one of the best team goals you will ever see, although Christian Chivu's maladroit attempt at a clearance played its part as well.
From that point on, Roma pushed more men forward than they are accustomed to do...and conceded two classic breakaway goals. In another irony, such goals are generally considered an Italian specialty, although United have proved dab hands at the swift counter in recent times as well.
In both cases, there was the proverbial man out of position - Christian Panucci, shifted to left-back for the first half. United managed to work the ball swiftly out to the right for the third goal, Ryan Giggs taking advantage of Panucci's absence to send in a cross, which Wayne Rooney expertly side-footed home. In the case of the fourth, it was Michael Carrick (who cut a superb figure as the deep-lying playmaker, in a performance worthy of Andrea Pirlo at his best) who played a precise ball through to Cristiano Ronaldo on the right. The outstanding winger cut outside a flailing Chivu and slammed the ball home.
At 4-0, there was obviously no coming back, and Roma just wilted (even with United playing far more casually after the interval). Probably the match was effectively over even at 2-0.
But it was the speed and hunger of the home side on the counter, I feel, which was really responsible for one of the most remarkable scorelines in the recent history of the Champions' League.