A TURN AROUND IN ROME By Jimmy Hagan (Jagmann21@aol.com) A dive in the box, a scream and a hand raised into the air. With the ball firmly in Antonioli’s grasp, a corner-kick is awarded to the visiting squad. It is a chilly December night, and AS Roma is desperately clutching onto a 2-1 lead over reigning champions Juve. A frantic run from Juve’s midfield gem, Pavel Nedved, led him to the top of Roma’s 18-yard box. A sweet move to the right and a gorgeous tackle to end the run, and start a domino of events which would shake the Rome club for the next few months. In the 87th minute a corner-kick was somehow awarded. The kick floated far post and was volleyed into the back of the net from a superb left-footed effort, ironically, by Nedved. A hard fought match and a chance to jump back into contention for the title race was over. The pain hurt that much more because of a match just weeks earlier that saw Roma blow another late lead at home at the hands of Milan giants Internazionale, who they face this Sunday in Milan. The buzz in Rome following the match was all around negative for Italian football in general. The word out of Roma President Franco Sensi office was that a conspiracy was brewing. Fingers flew in all directions except maybe the one place the needed to be. Roma had made no major off-season moves, and the squad was overall not a very competitive side. Who’s fault was this? Why it could only be the man making a thousand excuses for the poor performances of his club. Sensi blamed the refs, the coaches, the players, and even tried to rally the fans with him on an insane crusade to “justify the actions of poor refereeing.” He stated that, “Juve, Milan, and Inter executed a conspiracy with the ref’s to stop Roma from winning.” These allegations got him fined and a stern slap on the wrist from the Italian FA. In January new reports said that Roma had misused funds and owed some players final salaries. Sensi admitted that his club was in fact deep in major financial trouble and were “Millions of euros in debt.” He assured the fans the dues would be paid and he would not sell his stars for “A quick euro.” He proved this by making two loan deals with Leeds and Chievo, when the transfer window re-opened that January. By the end of the month the squad was out of contention for the title as well as a spot in the Champions League next season. The team had started slowly in September and hadn’t shown the qualities of a side that was anything but mid-table. Unfortunately for the Rome giants that would how they would finish. They immediately began to focus on the current Champions League. They had performed well enough to get threw an easy first round group, with the exception of Real Madrid. Heading into the winter Champions League break Roma was left with 0 points after two matches in the second group phase. Their first match was at home, to kick of the restart of the competition. And it was again a very disappointing result, as they couldn’t place the ball in the net for the entire affair. A late goal by visiting Valencia and the currently loaned Carew was all that was needed to complete the embarrassment. The Roma season looked for a brief moment to have finally taken a turn for their favor in their next match. This time on the road against Valencia, Roma shockingly opened up contest with 3 goals in the first 30 minutes. All of which were completely against the run of play. The game would end a 3-0 win for Roma as now they found themselves back in contention for a spot in the Champions League final round knock out phase with only 2 fixtures left to play. The last meeting against Arsenal was disastrous for Roma, as they lost 3-0 at home to a Thierry Henry hat trick. This meeting in London would result in another victory for Arsenal, a 1-0 win. Giving Roma 3 point with just one game left in the group, it would be at home against Ajax. A very defensive game was settled at one a piece, even though a Diego Fuser shot came within inches of placing Roma into the next round. The season looked lost, and if it were not for a very favorable road through the Italian Cup, Roma wouldn’t be competing in Europe at all this year. What has changed with this team from the team of last year? They lost their leader in the back (Cafu), had a deal to buy Brazilian star Lucio from Leverkusen collapse in the exchange of cash, and missed a chance to snatch their long time prize of Fernando Morienties. The huge difference has been in the attitude. Two loan deals have made Roma a top-notch team, shorting the gap between them and the current champs Juve. Roma’s biggest off-season move was the acquisition of Romanian skipper, Christian Chivu. The deal occurred within a 24-hour period of discussions, and then collapsed around them again. The Dutch team, Ajax, where Chivu is owned, was extremely unhappy about the current state of Roma’s bank guarantees. They called the deal off and had Chivu unpack his locker, as it appeared that Roma had let yet another last minute breakdown steal a quality player from them. But only hours before the transfer deadline, Roma orchestrated a major coup, by getting the player on a 4-month loan. While this was all taking place, Sensi remained calm and managed to work out another loan deal. This time with Valencia for the one-year services of the burly Norwegian John Carew. It is now expected that Sensi has given the transfer amount, in cash, to Ajax, and are expected to finalize the deal in January when the transfer window re-opens. This year’s Roma squad looks tough, dedicated, and most of all really good. They now have the resources to succeed and are currently just 2 points back of leaders Juve and Milan. Their display against Juve at the Stadio Delle Alpi was a magnificent show and a warning to all of Serie A. Facing Parma last weekend, with only two available strikers, no Panucci, and no Candela, Roma dominated the match with superb play from the young Italian Deniele De Rossi. They easily won the contest 2-0 and showed the rest of the league that they are for real. This game is a make-or-break game from Roma’s season. If they can manage a win away from home, at the formidable San Siro against rivals Inter, they could prove to be a major factor in the title race. This team is strong, young, and ready to win. Their play is skillful and Capello finally has all the ingredients needed to create another winner. This could be Roma’s year, a repeat of 2001. If the spell doesn’t break when the clock strikes midnight on Saturday, Inter could be in for another rough game on Sunday night. Just a friendly reminder to Juve and Milan to keep up their game, because it looks like Roma could be joining the party on top of Serie A.