AS Roma's UEFA Champions League campaign dramatically sparked into life with a win at Valencia CF which was largely inspired by captain Francesco Totti. No team had beaten Valencia at the Mestalla stadium in this competition in 20 attempts, but three goals in a 12-minute first-half spell - two from Totti and one from Emerson - put paid to that record.
Valencia had gone into the game as warm favourites having won 1-0 in Rome last week. Juan Sánchez partnered John Carew up front, with the Argentinian Pablo Aimar on the bench, and Fábio Aurélio came in for left-back and former Roma captain Amedeo Carboni. Roma, without a point before tonight, made six changes to last week's team - Francesco Antonioli was in goal, Walter Samuel and Vincent Candela the full-backs, Emerson in central midfield and - crucially - playmaker Totti, back from injury, partnered Antonio Cassano up front.
From the kick-off, it seemed there was only one team in the game - Valencia. Inspired by Carew, Rubén Baraja and Vicente Rodríguez they spent the first part of the match camped in the Roma half, Antonioli was kept especially busy with constant crosses. The only problem for Valencia was that they were not creating clear-cut shots with Aimar on the bench - and they were soon made to pay.
Roma score twice
First, on 24 minutes, Roma won a corner on the left. The ball was played in by Candela, and Totti rose to head the ball under Valencia goalkeeper Santiago Cañizares from close range. Despite this setback, Valencia remained full of confidence and kept attacking, but only six minutes after falling behind they were two goals down. Roma broke, and Cafu sent in a low cross from the right, which Totti turned past Cañizares from 12 metres.
Now Valencia did look worried - less than ten minutes after seeming in full control they were reeling. And on 36 minutes it looked even more bleak for the Spanish champions as Cassano fed Totti, and the Roma captain sent a perfect ball through to the on-running Emerson who, with only Cañizares to beat, slotted the ball past the Valencia No1. It was a superb pass from Totti - and it ensured that Valencia went in at half-time contemplating their first Champions League defeat this season.
No way back
Kily González and Pablo Aimar were both introduced for Valencia early in the second half, but the Roma defence looked more comfortable as time wound on. Indeed, the best chances were coming from Roma breaks, Totti shooting over several times, Cafu placing the ball wide after an outrageous back-heel from the visiting captain, and Cassano seeing a shot blocked by Cañizares.
Roma, however, were happy to settle for victory and revived hopes of a quarter-final place. Valencia still remain in a strong position, but they need their superb autumn form to return in time to take them through.