ROME (Reuters) – AS Roma squandered a two-goal lead but recovered to beat Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 following a late Miralem Pjanic penalty on Wednesday to move into second place in Champions League Group E.
The Italian side moved on to five points, five behind leaders Barcelona and one ahead of third-placed Leverkusen following their first win of the group stage.
Roma exposed the visitors’ defensive frailties with goals from Mohamed Salah and Edin Dzeko inside the first half hour, but Leverkusen levelled six minutes into the second period after a quickfire double from Admir Mehmedi and Javier Hernandez.
However, an 80th-minute penalty scored by Pjanic — following Omer Toprak’s goalline push on Salah — earned the visiting captain a red card and secured victory for the home side.
“We certainly don’t get bored when these two teams play each other,” Roma coach Rudi Garcia told Mediaset.
“We could have scored more goals in the first half and after the break there was this black-out, but we had the character to get back into it.
“The lads did well, because there are teams who would crumble if going from 2-0 to 2-2 in five minutes.”
Barcelona’s 3-0 home win over BATE Borisov extended the defending champions’ lead at the top of the standings and they will qualify as group winners if they avoid defeat by Roma in their next match.
Roma heeded Garcia’s pre-match calls to attack
Leverkusen and it took less than two minutes to open the scoring.
Counter-attacking at pace, Salah’s shot beat Bernd Leno after he was played in by a superb pass from Dzeko on two minutes.
Roma doubled their lead with a strikingly similar goal, Radja Nainggolan beating his man just inside the home side’s half before threading the ball to Dzeko who finished with aplomb on 29 minutes.
Just as they had done in the first match between the teams — a 4-4 draw —- Leverkusen fought back, scoring twice within the first six minutes of the second half to stun the home fans.
Mehmedi met Kevin Kampl’s cut back with a powerful angled drive that nestled in the roof of Wojciech Szczesny’s net on 46 minutes and Hernandez made it 2-2 after being found by Karim Bellarabi’s excellent pass in the 51st.
Roma retook the lead after 80 minutes when Tobrak pushed Salah into the net as the Egypt forward was about to pull the trigger from close range.
The Leverkusen captain was shown a straight red card and Pjanic beat Leno from the spot.
“We cannot keep disappearing in the opening five minutes of the second half in these big games,” said Dzeko.
“We have to improve this aspect, both in defence and in our overall mentality.”
(Reoporting by Ed Dove, editing by Ed Osmond)