A sensational goal from Alessandro Florenzi earned Roma a hard-earned point against defending champion Barcelona in a 1-1 result at Stadio Olimpico to start Group E action in Champions League.
Looking to become the first team ever to win back-to-back Champions League titles, last season’s treble winners took an early lead when Luis Suárez headed in Ivan Rakitic’s cross from close range. But the visitors were stunned just 10 minutes later when Florenzi scored one of the all-time great Champions League goals. Coming forward from right-back, the Italy international struck an effort from right on the touchline, just inside the opposition half, over the head of Marc-Andre ter Stegen and in off the post.
Barcelona predictably dominated possession throughout and largely controlled a game in which Roma were happy to sit back and strike on the break. Yet the Catalans could not find a way through against Rudi Garcia’s side’s fierce resistance, with Lionel Messi’s effort against the top of the crossbar the closest they came.
Ultimately, it is a result that likely won’t be particularly disappointing for either club. Barcelona pick up a point on the road in what may well be their toughest fixture in the group stage, while Roma make a positive start to their attempts to progress to the knockout stage for the first time in five seasons. After exiting at the first hurdle last season, the Serie A runners-up for the last two years are expected to face a battle with Bayer Leverkusen, who won 4-1 against Bate Borisov.
Perhaps, though, Barcelona coach Luis Enrique will have had extra motivation to ensure his side’s campaign kicked off with a victory. After all, it was his first return to the club where he was given his first top-level coaching role, only to depart after just a single season in which he could only guide them to a seventh-place finish in Serie A.
In the early stages, the chances appeared good that Enrique would earn a winning return. Messi had already gone close with a powerful strike before Barcelona took the lead in the 21st minute. From Jeremy Mathieu’s ball forward, Rakitic got in behind down the right and his driven cross was turned home by a just onside Suárez from under the crossbar. The goal left Roma coach Garcia furious with the officials, after defender Lucas Digne went down on the edge of the box in the buildup. Any contact with Messi, though, appeared innocuous and unintentional.
He was far happier just a short time later. Florenzi had never scored any goal in the Champions League before Wednesday, but his first will be one he is unlikely to ever forget. While Ter Stegen was caught off his line, it would be churlish to take anything away from the Italy international’s wonder strike.
Better still for Florenzi, it was to earn his side a point. Roma’s task of holding on was made more complicated by losing goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny early in the second half after Suárez followed up a mishit flick and caught the on-loan Arsenal goalkeeper with his boot. But replacement Morgan de Sanctis did everything that was asked of him, including holding on to a long-range strike from Sergi Roberto in the dying seconds, to leave Barcelona frustrated.