My Soccer World

Football: Baptista Fires Roma Back Into Champions League Contention

Posted on: January 15, 2009

ROME: Two-goal Brazilian forward Julio Baptista was the star of the show in AS Roma’s 2-0 home victory against Sampdoria at the Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday as the Cup holders reignited their Champions League challenge.

Two individual efforts from Julio Baptista moved Roma up to eighth place in Serie A following a sixth win in eight matches in a game that was originally due to be played in October.

They are now just six points behind Napoli in fourth place, the final Champions League qualification position.

It means their disastrous start to the season, in which they lost six and won just two of their opening 10 matches, is well and truly behind them.

The game had previously been postponed soon after kick-off back in October due to a waterlogged pitch after storms and a torrential downpour made the surface unplayable.

But instead of simply restarting the game, this match somewhat bizarrely began 5 minutes 51 seconds in with a free-kick to Roma on their right-hand side, just inside the Sampdoria half.

Very little happened in the opening stages other than Sampdoria’s former Roma striker and bete noire of Italian football Antonio Cassano being jeered mercilessly by the home faithful.

The game needed a goal to liven it up and it got one on 21 minutes, although after only a quarter of an hour of actual play on the day.

Julio Baptista, who usually plays behind the lone front man in coach Luciano Spalletti’s 4-2-3-1 formation but was playing up front on his own due to an injury to Francesco Totti and the suspension of Mirko Vucinic, was fouled on the edge of the box by Daniele Dessena.

He dusted himself down and then stepped up to curl a sumptuous free-kick into the top corner, leaving Luca Castellazzi helpless in the Sampdoria goal.

The hosts began to dominate and Julio Baptista stung Castellazzi’s hands moments later with a fierce drive that was too close to the goalkeeper, who could nonetheless only parry the strike.

The former Real Madrid and Arsenal forward, known as ‘The Beast’ from his Sevilla days, was a constant menace and on 32 minutes he bulldozed through two challenges before bringing another smart save out of Castellazzi.

At times Castellazzi was fighting a lone rearguard action but up the other end Cassano released Paolo Sammarco, who should have done better than firing wide.

Julio Baptista’s second came just eight minutes into the second half as once again he bundled his way past two powder-puff challenges before curling the ball low into the bottom left corner.

That goal killed the game off both as a spectacle and a competition, after which the closest Samp came to salvaging something was late on when Marco Padalino burst through only to set his sights nearer the corner flag than the goal. – AFP/de

Channel News Asia

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