Serie A: Roma go top with 1-0 win at Empoli
An own goal by Empoli `keeper Luigi Sepe helped send Roma provisionally top of Italy`s Serie A on Saturday four days before the Giallorossi make their much-awaited return to European competition.
Rome: An own goal by Empoli `keeper Luigi Sepe helped send Roma provisionally top of Italy`s Serie A on Saturday four days before the Giallorossi make their much-awaited return to European competition.
With Wednesday`s Group E opener against CSKA Moscow at the Olympic Stadium on the horizon, Roma coach Rudi Garcia opted to rest a number of first team regulars for their first away trip of the season.
Ivorian striker Gervinho, iconic playmaker Francesco Totti, forward Juan Iturbe and defender Davide Astori warmed the bench at the Carlo Castellani stadium, where the hosts were making their top flight return after a seven-year absence.
Garcia, who as coach of Lille faced CSKA in the 2011/2012 competition, admitted the mood in the campis buoyant.
"The Champions League is a fantastic competition. I`ve already experienced it as coach of Lille," Garcia told Sky Sports.
"The players are also looking forward to playing in Europe again, but tonight our minds were on Empoli.
"They played well and are not an easy side to play against. Some teams who come here are going to struggle."
Empoli had held Roma to just a point on the capital side`s last three visits to Tuscany, but at the tail end of a largely uneventful opening half the tide turned in Roma`s favour.
Five minutes from the break Maicon`s first-time effort from close range came off Sepe`s far post. Miralem Pjanic followed up, but his effort met traffic and despite the ball appearing to hit the arm of Lorenzo Tonelli the visitors` claims for a penalty were waved away.
Roma finally earned the breakthrough on the stroke of half-time.
Radja Nainggolan collected a cross from the right and had time and space to unleash a bouncing strike from 25 metres that came off post and `keeper before landing in the far corner of the net.
It should have been the Belgian`s second goal of the campaign after his strike in a 2-0 win over Fiorentina last week, but it was ruled an own goal.
Empoli, undone by Antonio Di Natale`s brace in a 2-0 defeat to Udinese last week, battled but were ultimately left frustrated.
Georgia international Levan Mchedlidze thought he had won a won a penalty after tumbling under a challenge from Kostas Manolas to the left of goal.
But his claims were waved away, and Empoli coach Maurizio Sarri saw red on 72 minutes for protesting the decision.
Minutes later Mchedlidze launched a fierce drive which Roma `keeper Morgan De Sanctis did well to block up high.
Gervinho made a cameo appearance when he replaced Adem Ljajic with 10 minutes to go and although the Ivorian did little Garcia will be expecting more on Wednesday when Roma return to Europe`s top table after a four-year absence.