Pick of the week in the UEFA Champions League play-off round was played at the Stadio Dragao where home side FC Porto welcomed the Serie A heavyweights AS Roma on Wednesday night.
Both managers fielded the strongest line ups available at the moment with Nuno Espirito Santo putting his faith into the hands of summer signings Alex Telles and Felipe, who were both deployed at left-back and centre-back, respectively.
His counterpart Luciano Spalletti chose to give a competitive debut for Barcelona defender on loan at AS Roma Thomas Vermaelen, at the same time not stepping away from his offensive 4-3-3 layout with Salah, Dzeko and Perotti all deployed upfront.
Two of Europe’s prominent sides treated us with an eventful first leg duel which was largely influenced by summer arrivals at both ends of the pitch.
A nervous start from the home side allowed AS Roma to put their foot down and dominate proceedings in early stages of the game.
Giallorossi looked more sharp and concrete on the ball, creating a couple of good goal chances in the first 15 minutes of the match.
Mohamed Salah attempted to break the deadlock as early as in the third minute of the game as collected a brilliant ball inside the box to get himself into a goal scoring opportunity. Former Chelsea and Fiorentina player took a shot, but his effort was well blocked by Porto defence.
Salah had a fine chance only four minutes later when he once again found himself in a good position inside the box. He did not hesitate to pull the trigger, but his shot flew narrowly of the left post.
Biggest opportunity for the Italian side was seen after 13 minutes when Edin Dzeko exploited a poor reaction from experienced Porto goalkeeper and Real Madrid legend Iker Casillas to get in a fine scoring schance, but his shot towards an open net was thwarted with a fantastic goal line clearance from Telles.
Former Galatasaray left-back who was signed this summer for €6.5 million intervened perfectly to save his team from conceding an early goal.
Home side Porto struggled to find their footing inside the opening 20 minutes and their efforts were unfortunately frustrated even more in a pitiful moment for Felipe, a summer signing from Corinthians. The Brazilian centre back, who was paid €6.2 million, tried to avert an isnide the box cross, but the ball deflected off his foot and behind his keeper’s back.
Giallorossi continued to push up all the way through the first half with Mohamed Salah being the most prominent player on the pitch in the first term. He had a fine shot minutes from the half-hour mark, but his shot was collected by a great reaction from Porto shot stopper.
Naingollan attempted a minute later, but Casillas pulled a string of fine saves to keep his team alive.
One of the key moments in the entire game happened after 41 minutes when Barcelona defender on loan at Roma Thomas Vermaelen picked up his second yellow card after a poor tackle and got sent-off in his debut game for Giallorossi.
Having ran onto the pitch with ten men on the field, AS Roma decided to pull back and defend their lead leaving plenty of room for home side to finally earn some ground in this exciting game.
Much like the first half during which we witnessed predominantly one-sided affair, the second half continued in the same manner with FC Porto completely dominating the proceedings.
Porto’s brilliant star into the second half was awarded with a goal in the net after a brilliant team effort, but unlucky Adrian has had his goal ruled out for offside despite Bjorn Kuipers initially ruled it valid. After a lengthy consultation with his assistants however he changed his mind disappointing the roaring home crowd.
Porto continued to push hard and got in a fine scoring chance just a minute later through Andre Miguel Valente Silva, who rose above the defence after 51 minutes to strike a fine header, but the Roma goalkeeper got lucky with the ball flying narrowly wide of the right post.
Roma struggled with ten men and failed to keep the composure as Porto piled pressure. A poor, unfortunate moment for Roma’s Emerson at the hour mark when he handled the ball inside the box leaving the referee no choice but to blow the whistle. Andre Silva executed the penalty shot with great precision and strength as the ball blazed into the upper left corner.
Hosts were eager to make the most of their dominance in the remaining 30 minutes, but they lacked the cutting edge in the final third against the experience defense-oriented side such as AS Roma.
Spalletti subbed his best man Mohamed Salah, who made way for another debutant – former Tottenham defender Federico Fazio – with AS Roma closing the lines in the closing stages.
Fruitless runs down the flanks and attempts to create space between the lines resulted in nothing more than a single solid opportunity for Porto in the 81th minute when Otavinho attempted to convert a lofted cross into the middle of the goal. Alisson showed his brilliant reflexes and pulled off a glorious save to clear his goal.
Action-packed 90 minutes ultimately ended in an eventful 1-1 draw which provided AS Roma with a slight upper hand ahead of the return leg.
PORTO: Casillas 7 – Pereira 6.5, Felipe 5.5, Marcano 7, Telles 7.5 – Herrera 7, Pereira 6.5 – Adrian 7 (Corona 6.5), Otavinho 7 (Evandro 6), Andre 6.5 (Layun 6) – Andre Silva 7.5
Unused subs: Neves, Jose Sa, Teixeira, Varela
ROMA: Alisson 7 – Florenzi 6.5 (Paredes 6), Manolas 7, Vermaelen 5, Jesus 7 – Nainggolan 7.5, De Rossi 7, Strootman 7 – Salah 7.5 (Fazio 6.5), Dzeko 7, Perotti 6.5 (Emerson 5.5)
Unused subs: El Shaarawy, Iturbe, Szczesny, Totti
REFEREE: Bjorn Kuipers
Other results this evening
Celtic 5-2 H. Beer Sheva
Dundalk 0-2 Legia
Ludogorets 2-0 Plzen
Villarreal 1-2 Monaco
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