A freak John Carew goal gave unbeaten Valencia CF the narrowest of wins at AS Roma, leaving the Italian side still without a point, and well off the pace in UEFA Champions League Group B. With the game seemingly heading for a goalless draw, Carew's cross somehow flew into the net, to deal Roma's campaign yet another blow.
The signs were not good for the Italians, yet to record a home win in this year's tournament. Captain and inspirational attacker Francesco Totti had pulled out with a back problem, joining the injured Vincent Candela and the suspended Emerson and Walter Samuel on the sidelines. Valencia were without right-back Curro Torres, but were able to field recent signing and Champions League debutant Anthony Réveillère in his place.
However, Roma showed they were not intimidated with a promising start. Vincenzo Montella's pace gave the visiting defence early problems, while the Spanish champions struggled to put together the long passing movements they have used to dominate games this season.
Zebina heads wide
Santiago Cañizares narrowly escaped a red card on nine minutes, referee Wolfgang Stark adjudging his foul on the breaking Montella a bookable offence only, but Cafu's free-kick was headed only just wide by Jonathan Zebina.
Valencia then had a good spell themselves, and went close as Francisco Rufete shot wide and then Vicente Rodríguez sent a cross across the face of goal. Pablo Aimar, though forced back into midfield by Roma's sound defending, nearly set up a goal on 25 minutes when his quickly taken free-kick resulted in Rufete's long-range effort being tipped over by Roma goalkeeper Ivan Pelizzoli. But gradually the sides cancelled each other out, only Cafu and Rufete's wing play looking likely to produce chances.
Montella's replacement by Antonio Cassano at the break gave Roma an extra spark, the substitute looking fresh and hungry. Ten minutes into the second half, however, the home team then lost both Traianos Dellas and Marco Delvecchio to injury, breaking up their rhythm.
Indeed, both teams struggled for momentum, although Dellas's absence freed up Aimar, and Valencia introduced Kily González and Mista to try and find some spark. It appeared to be having little effect but suddenly, 12 minutes from the end, and moments after Rubén Baraja had had a shot blocked by Pelizzoli, a goal came out of the blue.
Carew, who had been very quiet in the second period, hit a seemingly innocuous cross from the right wing. Too close to the goal for any Valencia forward to connect with, the ball swerved, catching out Pelizzoli, and sneaking inside his near post.
It came as a shock for Roma, and they never recovered their poise as a game that seemed to be providing them with at least a point suddenly turned into another defeat. They did not threaten the Valencia goal after falling behind, and their Champions League campaign is now in peril.