Thursday, March 12, 2009

Arsenal defeat Roma on penalties in Champions League

AS Roma's Max Tonetto skied his penalty miles over the bar to hand Arsenal a place in the Champions League quarter-finals following a tense match that went to the spot-kick lottery on Wednesday.
Arsenal won the shoot-out 7-6 thanks to Tonetto's sudden death miss after Eduardo and Mirko Vucinic had seen their earlier efforts saved by goalkeepers Doni and Manuel Almunia respectively.
It means all four English teams made it through to the last eight with Italy's three representatives all bowing out -- it is the first time in seven years no Italian team has made it through to the quarters.
The game ended 1-0 to the hosts after 90 minutes, matching the score the Gunners had won by in London two weeks ago.

Despite the four English teams in the next round, Wenger named Barcelona as his favourites to lift the title.

"England can be very proud to have four teams through for the second year now," he said.

"It was very close between Chelsea and Juventus. Between us and Roma it was very close and I heard that Inter (Milan) played well against (Manchester) United, so it looks like Italy are coming back.

"But I give you as favourite a non-English team hoping and English team wins it."

With a first leg deficit to overcome Roma needed all the help they could get but while talisman Francesco Totti was passed fit, France centre-back Philippe Mexes was ruled out with the flu.

It meant that Malian Souleymane Diamoutene -- a transfer window signing from Lecce -- came into the side to make his Champions League debut.

Things looked desperate after just five minutes as Roma's other first choice centre-back Juan walked off the pitch with a hamstring problem.

However the Roma physios patched him up and sent him back on a couple of minutes later and with good reason as it was the Brazilian who slotted in the opener.

Roma opened up Arsenal's right side with some slick passing on nine minutes allowing Totti to cross into the box.

The ball passed between William Gallas and Emmanuel Eboue and was missed by Rodrigo Taddei but Juan, who had stayed up a long time following a corner, was free at the back post to control the ball and slide it under Almunia.

Despite the defeat, Roma coach Luciano Spalletti said he was proud of his patched-up team.

"After a night like this we should be proud, we're going out of the Champions League with our heads held high," he said.

"In the changing rooms I told the lads that they gave their all and they should feel proud."

Roma twice went close to a second on 23 minutes as Marco Motta broke into the box. Almunia saved his near post effort but Motta kept the ball alive and it came out to Taddei whose shot Almunia tipped around the post.

However Juan couldn't continue much longer and Roma were forced into a defensive rejig with John Arne Riise moving into the centre and Julio Baptista coming on in midfield.

Arsenal were creating only half chances and Abou Diaby headed the best straight into Doni's arms from a Samir Nasri cross.

On the stroke of half-time Roma were screaming for a penalty as Motta went down in the box with Gael Clichy chasing him but the referee rightly ignored the appeals.

Roma's makeshift defence was looking vulnerable and on 58 minutes a terrible Riise mistake on the halfway line let Eboue run away down the right but the Ivory Coast international failed to pick out Nicklas Bendtner.

The game was on a knife edge and both sides seemed unwilling to commit too much in attack although Diaby did create some space before firing wide.

With 11 minutes left Roma opened Arsenal up at the back as the ball was switched quickly from Taddei to Totti to Baptista but the Brazilian, playing against his former club, slipped with the goal at his mercy and failed to trouble Almunia.

Arsenal had two good late chances but Robin van Persie's shot was deflected wide and Kolo Toure headed over from close range.

The extra 30 minutes failed to produce any clear cut chances and so the game headed to the spot-kick lottery. And Tonetto's woeful effort sealed Roma's fate.

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