By Tom Kington
Valencia CF put their UEFA Champions League season back on track with a John Carew cross-shot that left AS Roma goalkeeper Ivan Pelizzoli stranded and the Italian side's European campaign in desperate trouble at a bitterly cold Stadio Olimpico.
Carew confessed his 78th-minute shot was a fluke - but it was just what was needed to break the deadlock in a tight contest and give the Spanish visitors a win that moves them level on points with Group B rivals AFC Ajax and Arsenal FC. "My shot was not intentional," admitted Carew of the looping cross that swung inside the shocked Pelizzoli's unguarded near post. "It came from the heavens."
'Very important victory'
Fluke or not, it ensured Valencia their first win on Italian soil - and sweet relief for coach Rafael Benítez, whose side still have home fixtures to come against Roma and Arsenal. "It was not the most beautiful game - more tactical - but it was a very important victory," said Benítez "This is a crucial step forward in the group and now we have the advantage of two home games."
Roma coach Fabio Capello conceded that with no points at the halfway stage there was little hope for his side, even though Newcastle United FC advanced despite defeats in their opening three first-phase games. "Newcastle lost their first three games in the first stage of the competition and progressed, but it will be very difficult," he said.
'We still have a chance'
More optimistic was Greek defender Trainos Dellas, who departed the field with a suspected hamstring injury on 55 minutes and was missed by the home team, who said: "With Arsenal and Ajax drawing we still have a chance." Roma are five points behind the top three.
And certainly, the defeat was unfortunate on a Roma side who needed a good result to shake off their recent domestic disappointments. "It has been the story of our Champions League, coming after our keeper dropped a shot at Ajax and conceded the losing goal," said Capello.
Capello also suggested that the heavily sanded pitch could also have played a role in injuries that saw Dellas and Marco Delvecchio come off early in the second half, leaving a side already missing Francesco Totti, Emerson and Vincent Candela looking more like a B-team. "We missed a centre forward to create problems up front whereas the likes of [Antonio] Cassano and Delvecchio play better from deep," said Capello.
Cafu goes close
Carew's goal was the high point of a second half in which Roma sought to find a breakthrough, often through Cafu, whose fierce tight-angled volley was palmed away by Santiago Cañizares in the 66th minute.
It had been a different story in a well-balanced first half, where Roma striker Vincenzo Montella produced deft dribbles and early tricks that worried the visiting defence. A ninth-minute long ball sent the Italian international striker clear only for Cañizares to haul him down outside the area and earn a yellow card.
In a battle of the veterans, Cafu was getting the better of 37-year-old former Roma captain, Amedeo Carboni, providing a reliable supply of crosses from the right before the fluid Valencia midfield began to find space with Rubén Baraja growing in authority and Francisco Rufete finding room to produce a trademark long shot that Pelizzoli did well to block.
"Roma looked nervous, since they had to win," concluded Benítez, who denied he had come for a draw. "We have always looked to win."
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