Christian Panucci scored the only goal as AS Roma defeated Valencia CF to secure second spot in Group D behind the Spanish side and a place in the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League.
Panucci knows all about the big occasion having won the competition with Real Madrid CF in 1998, and he proved his worth to Roma at both ends of the pitch on a night when Valencia, with the section sewn up, fielded a team of twentysomethings or less. Panucci, a veteran to his opponents at 33, headed the winner in the 13th minute to ensure a comfortable evening and dash FC Shakhtar Donetsk's hopes of stealing a last-16 berth.
Roma coach Luciano Spalletti entrusted 20-year-old Valerio Virga with a starting place in the absence of captain and talisman Francesco Totti, while Cristian Chivu pushed into midfield to replace Simone Perrotta as the Italian international was deemed fit enough only for the bench due a troublesome ankle. The Giallorossi were eager to seize control of the match and their destiny, and striker Mirko Vučinić, preferred to Vincenzo Montella, charged down a long ball in the opening seconds, only to see his effort palmed away by Ludovic Butelle - the Valencia goalkeeper enjoying a rare start with Santiago Cañizares rested.
Butelle was one of a number of changes by Quique Sánchez Flores, the visiting coach who kept his promise to give his fringe players a UEFA Champions League run-out with the knockout rounds to come. Forward Aarón Ñíguez, 17, had big boots to fill as David Villa's stand-in, yet had a sniff of goal after latching on to a raking Joaquín Sánchez pass, before Panucci defended adroitly to snuff out the danger. The right-back then made a more crucial intervention at the opposite end, racing in unmarked to head the ball into an unguarded net from close range after Philippe Mexes had nodded Taddei's free-kick back across goal.
Valencia were rarely as threatening, Panucci and Mexes having little trouble blocking incursions by Francesco Tavano and Ñíguez before the youngster was taken off injured in the 27th minute. Mancini and Vučinić were a more cohesive attacking unit, although the latter player just failed to connect with the Brazilian's inviting cross in the 38th minute, and just before half-time Joaquín fired a warning shot when drilling a powerful attempt over. The second half followed a similar pattern, with Joaquín looking Valencia's most likely source of inspiration, and Panucci the man most likely to stop him; a 65th-minute challenge by the defender on the winger summing up his dominance.
Save for a Hugo Viana free-kick and a Tavano chance in the latter stages, a Roma victory was never in doubt and they can look forward to knockout football in 2007, when Valencia will be back at full strength.