The Bosnian scored a stunning late set-piece to maintain Roma’s 100 per cent start to the season and continue their fascinating title battle with Juventus
By Kris Voakes | International Football Correspondent
Champions are made of steel. They are made of quality. But perhaps most importantly, they are made of character.
Some people were left doubting Roma’s character last season as their unlikely title challenge ended with an ultimately predictable second-place finish. But Wednesday night’s 2-1 win at Parma suggests they are building the kind of resolve they will have to show much more of if they are to upset the odds this time around and pip Juventus to the Serie A crown.
And if they do so, it is highly probable that Miralem Pjanic will be at the centre of everything that characterises their play. The Bosnian was in splendid form once more in the middle of the park playing a total of 112 passes at a 93 per cent success rate and, when things appeared not to be going their way, it was he who stood tallest of all.
After a rare goal from ex-Juve left-back Paolo De Ceglie had ended their season-long clean sheet, the Giallorossi – with Pjanic as the fulcrum – kept their heads, backed their ability to find a way through, and got the reward of three points for which they were very good value.
Roma looked in no real danger until De Ceglie struck, with a first half display of complete control leaving those watching with the distinct impression that the runaway Roman train would roll on untouched for at least one more game.
So overwhelming was their superiority that the opening goal for Adem Ljajic was utterly inevitable. And it was no surprise either that Francesco Totti should be involved, teeing up the Serb with a magnificent lifted pass which was thrashed home to give Rudi Garcia’s troops a deserved lead.
And while a second goal before half-time would not have given the scoreline an undue imbalance, when they came out after the interval the pace had been dropped ever so slightly.
That minimal dip in intensity was punished by De Ceglie when he rose high at a right-wing corner to head home the equaliser when completely unmarked.
Thereafter the game largely returned to its previous status, with Roma bossing most of the possession and territory. But the lack of a cutting edge, the inability to pick the lock in the Parma back line underlined the opinion of many that it will be the shortage of genuine goalscorers that could be Roma’s undoing in the title race.
Still they had something up their sleeves though, and with little over two minutes remaining they won a free-kick around 20 yards from goal. Up stepped Pjanic to glide a delightful effort over the wall and into the top corner of the net, leaving Antonio Mirante with no chance.
It was a wonderful goal to ensure a priceless win.
Parma is far from the easiest place to record a victory in an Italian league season. Juventus themselves failed to pick up all three points on either of Antonio Conte’s first two trips to the Ennio Tardini as coach.
Yet, despite facing a long period in the second half during which it would have been normal to start doubting themselves, Rudi Garcia and his men pulled through by continuing to do what they do best. And Pjanic was at the heart of that.
If anyone deserved to be their hero, it was him.
“Mire is a phenomenon,” Ljajic told Sky Sport at the end of the match. “What he does on the pitch is incredible, but it is not strange for us to see him do that.”
Training sessions must be one hell of a show!
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