Champions League

Roma squeeze into last 16

Rudi Garcia (AFP)
Rudi Garcia (AFP)

Rome - Roma coach Rudi Garcia called for fans' understanding after jeers rained down on his side after they squeezed into the Champions League last 16 following a scoreless draw at home to BATE Borisov.

Roma welcomed the Belarusian champions to the Stadio Olimpico knowing defeat would end their bid to reach the knockout phase for the first time since the 2010-2011 campaign.

And only a couple of great stops from Roma 'keeper Wojciech Szczesny, one of which came at point-blank range, kept the hosts in contention as Aleksandr Yermakovich's visitors grew increasingly bold on the counter-attack during what was a much-improved second half from the hosts.

Roma had 24 attempts on goal but ultimately failed to appease fans by hitting the net, prompting a mass protest even after hearing the announcer confirm their qualification to the knockout phase.

Frenchman Garcia has been increasingly under pressure following his side's failure to win their last two league games, and a patchy run in the Champions League.

But he blamed Roma's poor run on a string of injuries and called for patience as the club awaits the return to full fitness of Gervinho, Mohamed Salah, Seydou Keita and Maicon among others.

"As I said to the lads before the game, obviously qualifying in these circumstances is difficult, we lost a lot of players through injury," said Garcia.

"But when things are down, you still have to try and reach your objectives and tonight we've secured our first objective of the season, which was to qualify for the last 16.

"The last 16 begins in February, hopefully we'll have a little bit more strength up front when our injured players come back. It will be better."

It will be Roma's first appearance in the knockout phase since a 6-2 aggregate defeat to Shakhtar Donestsk in 2011 and, after a 6-1 defeat to Barcelona two weeks ago and a scoreless draw with BATE, fans will be praying Monday's draw for the last 16 is kind.

Roma this season have failed to win a match when both wingers Gervinho and Mohamed Salah have been injured and the reliance on the Africans became clear as the hosts failed to spark in an insipid first half.

Gervinho was poised to start but pulled out during the warm-up, while Salah came on halfway through the second period to add much-needed impetus down the right flank.

Roma enjoyed a promising start to the second half, only for BATE to threaten at least twice on the counter.

Minutes after the restart Miralem Pjanic found Edin Dzeko just outside the area but an alert Sergei Chernik was out quickly to block with his legs.

It finally jolted the Olimpico into song, although Roma never really managed to lift a crowd of only 29 489 - many fans still staying away amid an on-going boycott over recently-introduced security measures.

Dzeko and Alessandro Florenzi saw other chances go amiss but Roma's bid was almost completely derailed on 68 minutes when Szczesny pulled off a stunning point-blank save on Mikhail Gordeichuk after he connected with Maksim Golodko's weighted cross on 68 minutes.

The save could prove priceless, but even Szczesny admitted after the game fans had every reason to be angry, saying: "Maybe it wasn't the most beautiful (performance), but we've qualified and that's what's important.

"They (fans) have the right to be frustrated. They pay to come here and see their team win and play good football, but I think once they go home and realise we're still in the Champions League they will feel happy."

At the other end Chernik came out to intercept a cross for Dzeko and Pjanic's follow up strike was spectacularly cleared off the line by Nemanja Milunovic.

Szczesny saved the day again on a rising angled strike from Filip Mladenovic, the danger cleared only when Igor Stasevich's close-range shot was blocked.

Nainggolan and Salah late chances go amiss and Roma hung on, but the memory of clinching their last 16 ticket will come with the sound of jeers and whistles that rang round the stadium at full-time.