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Roma's "Mission impossible" in the UCL

Real Madrid vs Roma: 'Mission impossible' for the Giallorossi?

March 7, 2016 By Michelle Bonsu
Despite putting up a valiant fight, Roma will have a massive mountain to climb after losing 2-0 to Real Madrid in the UCL round of 16 first leg. Do they have any remote chance of recovering?

It certainly was a match-up that looked to be already decided even before a football was kicked. As a result of finishing top of their group, 10-time Champions League winners Real Madrid were given a comfortable round of 16 draw, with Scudetto runners-up Roma as their opponents. If the La Liga giants cruised through their group stages with five wins, one draw, 19 goals scored, and just three conceded, the Giallorossi were fortunate just to even be among the 16 teams heading into the knock-out rounds.

Then under the guidance of Rudi Garcia, Roma had barely scraped by to secure their ticket to this stage. Having earned just six points, the Lupi were the worst-performing side out of the 16 to get through, with just one win in their six group stage fixtures. Although they scored 11 goals, which is not that bad an output considering that fellow Serie A side Juventus scored just six, they shipped a whopping 16 goals.

To put this in perspective, only Maccabi Tel Aviv, with 16, and Malmo, with 21 can match this poor record, and neither side got out of their group. In fact, the Israeli outfit and the club where Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his professional start finished last in their quartets. Roma's points total are the joint-second fewest (along with Russian powerhouse Zenit, who also earned six during the 2013/2014 season) of any team who qualified for the Champions League in the tournament's history. Only AC Milan, who earned five (following a two-point deduction) did worse during the 1994/1995 term.

Unfortunately for the Giallorossi, who finished second behind Barcelona, they were handed one of the more "unpleasant" opponents for the round of 16. And given their humiliation to the Blaugrana in the group stages, most figured that the team, now under the leadership of Luciano Spalletti were set for another hiding, this time, at the hands of Real Madrid.

Fortunately for anxious Roma fans in attendance at the Stadio Olimpico last month, their team were beaten, as most had expected, but not humiliated. Still, having conceded two away goals, the task in front of Spalletti's side all but appears to be a "mission impossible".

Mission impossible? Roma will have more than just a Mount Everest to climb in order to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the round of 16 first leg

For starters, since the Lupi were unable to score at home, they will now have to score at least two goals to at least push the game to extra time. And to further complicate matters, Roma will have to somehow manage to keep Zinedine Zidane's side from scoring on their own home turf. So, how many teams so far this season have managed to do this?

Whilst the team still had Rafa Benitez on the tactician's bench, only two teams were able to frustrate Real Madrid at home: Malaga and Barcelona. The former managed a scoreless stalemate, whilst the latter humiliated them 4-0 in the first "Clasico" of the season. And since Zidane's arrival earlier this year, Atletico Madrid now has been added to that list after they overpowered their city rivals 1-0 in the Madrid Derby. 

Although Roma have improved massively with Spalletti at the helm - they will be coming into this game having won their past seven Serie A matches - keeping a clean sheet is still a problem. Despite recording an impressive 4-1 victory over Fiorentina this past Friday, the team have still looked suspect at times in defense and will obviously have to do infinitely better on Tuesday if they want to have even a glimmer of hope in recording a positive result in Madrid.

The question is: Do Roma even have a shot? Unfortunately, if one is a Giallorossi supporter, one will want to look away now: No team has ever recovered after losing 2-0 at home to qualify for the next stage in 97 previous Champions League ties. Furthermore, only one team has been able to prevent Real Madrid from scoring in this season's edition: PSG, who held them to a 0-0 draw in the group stages.

And here's another stat: Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo alone has scored more UCL goals than Roma's entire total, with 12 so far to date.

Given the way the Portuguese attacker has been scoring for fun this season, his legions of fans will expect him, as usual, to find the back of the net tomorrow as he hopes to maintain his spot as the tournament's all-time top scorer.

So with all these disconcerting numbers stacked against them, one would forgive Roma for already throwing in the towel. Still, they will be arriving in Spain full of some confidence after a good result in Serie A this past week. Furthermore, the onus will be on the hosts to qualify; after all, they are the club with the most Champions League trophies in Europe and are widely touted as one of the heavy favorites to win it in Milan at the end of this season.

Or could Giallorossi supporters see an interesting repeat of what happened eight years ago? On March 5, 2008 Spalletti guided Roma to a 2-1 win at the very same ground to knock the capital giants 4-2 on aggregate at this exact juncture. Of course, the Lupi arrived in Spain having won the first leg by the same scoreline, making their task much, much easier than the one they will have to undertake this Tuesday.

Still, there is that old saying "Once you've done something, you can do it again". All in all, should Roma manage to complete their "mission impossible" it will truly be something that followers of the world's most popular sport will not forget for a long time. 

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