The UEFA Champions League will conclude at the Stadio Olimpico on 27 May but that showpiece is a long way away for Luciano Spalletti's injury-hit AS Roma and competition debutants CFR 1907 Cluj.
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The UEFA Champions League will conclude at the Stadio Olimpico on 27 May but that showpiece is a long way away for AS Roma and CFR 1907 Cluj as they launch their Group A campaigns in the Italian capital on Tuesday.
Dips in form
Fine 2007/08 performances brought these rivals second place in Serie A and a first Romanian championship respectively, but this season has shown rather less promise for either side. Roma have one point from two games amid a mini injury crisis while CFR's indifferent Liga 1 form led to the replacement earlier this month of coach Ioan Andone with his Italian assistant Maurizio Trombetta.
A 3-1 defeat at US Città di Palermo on Saturday was not the result Roma wanted to take into this match, especially with midfielder Simone Perrotta missing with an achilles problem and defender Juan suffering from a groin injury. There is hope that Daniele De Rossi, Philippe Mexès and forwards Mirko Vučinić and Francesco Totti could play some part, and Roma coach Luciano Spalletti insisted: "We are not in the best shape but when we think about the last three years, we have been through worse. We have made some mistakes but we must stay calm and the lads must show their potential, which is huge. I am not making excuses – I have full confidence in the players I have available."
Still, he is not underestimating the opposition, making their competition debut against a club who have reached the last two quarter-finals. "I know Cluj well enough," Spalletti said. "I have watched two of their games on DVD and sent an assistant to watch their last match. They have a lot of top-quality South Americans and their morale is high because they won the title last season. They have moved up several levels in recent years."
CFR, whose previous European experience consists of runs to the 2005 UEFA Intertoto Cup final and to the 2007/08 UEFA Cup second qualifying round, may have a new coach for this campaign, but Trombetta is keen to pay tribute to his former chief. "I am very grateful to my predecessor and to the players for getting us into the Champons League, and I will try to make the best of this opportunity. We are not bothered about which players are out for Roma, as we will try to do our best and go there with our heads up."
On Friday, Trombetta tasted victory in his first game as a head coach, prevailing 2-1 at CF Gloria 1922 Bistrita, and with his team at full fitness he declared: "I have been in charge for only one game but we won, so the spirit is great. We are honoured to be here, but we are not here to see the Vatican or to get Totti's autograph – we are here to do our best." Trombetta, who has much coaching experience as a No2 in his homeland, added: "I know Roma as I have been here as an assistant coach, and I am certain Roma won't make the same mistakes they made against Palermo. They are not that sort of team."