Tomas Chory's winner 18 minutes from time secured Viktoria Plzen a place in the Europa League, as they beat Roma 2-1 to pip CSKA Moscow to third place in Group G.
Although CSKA claimed a remarkable 3-0 win away to Real Madrid, the Czech club just needed to get the same number of points as the Russians due to their superior head-to-head record and they showed admirable character to progress.
Roma, who were already sure of second spot, looked every inch a side with nothing on the line during the first half, as they offered precious little going forward and just about survived falling behind – Jan Kovarik looking particularly lively for the hosts.
Kovarik opened the scoring just after the hour and, although Cengiz Under pegged them back, Chory got what proved to be the winner in the 72nd minute, rendering CSKA's efforts at the Santiago Bernabeu useless.
The first half was one of very few chances, as Roma failed to offer much spark despite naming a strong starting XI.
Roma were lucky to not find themselves behind in the 26th minute, but they were let off the hook as Kovarik smashed over from 12 yards after the visitors were unable to clear a right-wing cross.
Kovarik threatened again just before half-time, but Chory somehow failed to connect with his brilliant controlled volley across the face of goal.
The lively Kovarik eventually got his goal in the 62nd minute, tapping in Jan Kopic's low cross on the break.
Under levelled five minutes later with a neat 20-yard finish into the bottom-left corner after Davide Santon's cut-back, but Plzen had the last laugh.
But, at the other end, Kovarik lashed a half-volley at Antonio Mirante after being released into the box and Chory was on hand to head the rebound beyond the helpless goalkeeper, with a stoppage-time Luca Pellegrini red card for a flailing elbow making things worse for Roma.
What does it mean? Plzen's character shines through
It cannot have been easy for Plzen to have rallied again after Under's equaliser, but if anything they were even better after that goal. The winner was the least they deserved, and they could have got more.
They can now look forward to Europa League football after the festive period, their final total of seven points from a tough group a more than respectable return. Roma, meanwhile, will eagerly await the last-16 draw.
Kovarik the key man for Plzen
Although he was guilty of a bad miss in the first half, Kovarik was a constant nuisance and made amends for wasting that early chance by scoring a well-worked goal after the break.
Pastore offers little craft
Surrounded by the less experienced Patrik Schick, Justin Kluivert and Under, the onus was on Pastore to take the creative lead in midfield, but he next to no impact in creating just one chance and was replaced by another youngster – Nicolo Zaniolo – just before the hour.
Key Opta Facts:
- Roma have conceded at least once in each of their last 30 away games in the Champions League, the joint-longest run in the competition's history alongside Celtic.
- Under has been involved in four goals in his last five Champions League games (three goals, one assist).
- Under is just the second Turkish player to score 3+ goals in a Champions League campaign for a non-Turkish side, after Arda Turan did so for Atletico Madrid in 2013-14 and Barcelona in 2016-17 (both 4 goals).
- Seven of the eight goals conceded by Roma in Champions League this season have been scored in the second half.
Plzen will be looking to keep the pressure Sparta Prague at the top of the table on Sunday when they host Karvina, while Roma host Genoa on the same day hoping to move back into Serie A's European places.
22 de enero 2019
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