'We are the city': Roma beats Lazio 2-1 in heated derby
It was just what Italian football fans needed in the first Serie A game since the Azzurri failed to qualify for the World Cup: An entertaining Rome derby that wasn't marred by fan disturbances.
Roma scored twice in four minutes early in the second half to beat Lazio 2-1 in the most high-profile matchup between the Italian capital's clubs in years on Saturday.
The result vaulted Roma ahead of Lazio near the top of the standings.
"Roma played as a strong squad should play. They were very well organized," Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi said, adding that Roma's constant pressure prevented his squad from deploying its usual strategy of counterattacks.
After Diego Perotti opened the scoring with a penalty, the Argentine winger turned provider when Radja Nainggolan added another to finish off a swift counterattack.
Nainggolan's status had been in doubt due to injury but he was a surprise starter.
"He's really a ninja in this sense," Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco said, using the midfielder's nickname. "He's got a head of iron and he's a player with a lot of talent."
Ciro Immobile converted a penalty for Lazio to reduce Roma's lead and add to his league-best scoring total of 15 in 12 matches.
Security was high after Lazio fans last month littered the stadium with images of Anne Frank — the young diarist who died in the Holocaust — wearing a jersey of city rival Roma.
But police issued a statement after the game saying it "concluded without significant incidents."
Roma moved into third place, two points behind leader Napoli, which was hosting AC Milan later.
Lazio dropped to fifth, two points behind Roma.
With a combined 55 points entering the derby, it was the highest tally for the two Rome sides after 11 league games since 1994.
It was also the first derby since longtime Roma captain Francesco Totti retired.
Totti watched like a proud father from the tribune, comfortable in the knowledge the Giallorossi are looking more organized under first-year coach Di Francesco, his former teammate.
Less than three weeks ago, Roma dominated English Premier League champion Chelsea 3-0 in the Champions League and now it is in the hunt for its first Serie A title since 2001 — with city bragging rights.
Di Francesco said he was proudest of having earned the respect of Roma's players.
"That's the toughest challenge at Roma, winning over the changing room," Di Francesco said. "But we believe in what we're doing. Now we need to show continuity and keep going."
The scene at the Stadio Olimpico was electric from the start, although the evening began with a somber and unified dedication to Gabriele Sandri, the Lazio supporter who was shot and killed by a policeman 10 years ago.
Even Roma fans applauded when the stadium announcer acknowledged Sandri's family in attendance. Lazio supporters then unveiled a huge banner featuring an image of Sandri's face next to an eagle, the club mascot.
Roma fans began the second half by holding up a huge banner that read, "L'Urbe Siamo Noi" — "We are the city" — in a mix of Latin and Italian, with designs of the Colosseum and St. Peter's Basilica.
The message seemed to get to the pitch quickly as Aleksandar Kolarov earned a penalty three minutes into the second half to set up Perotti's penalty.
As he usually does, Perotti walked slowly up to the spot and was practically standing still when he precisely placed his shot in the right corner, even though goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha leaped in the right direction.
Roma's entire squad leaped over the advertising boards and ran to celebrate under the Curva Sud — southern end — where the club's hard-core "ultra" fans sit. The fans responded by launching yellow smoke into the air, reports AP
It didn't take long for more celebration as Perotti took the ball away near midfield then crossed to Nainggolan who found the target with an angled shot from beyond the area.
This time even Roma's bench players ran over to the Curva.
In the 70th, the referee needed to use video assistance to determine a handball by Roma defender Kostas Manolas and award Lazio the penalty that Immobile converted.
There were a few nervous moments at the end but Roma goalkeeper Allison made a well-timed stop on Immobile to preserve the victory.