AS Roma: Radja Nainggolan ensures ‘fair result’ and continued Champions League path

Radja Nainggolan struck late to save a point for AS Roma in a 1-1 draw with Inter Milan as the capital club look to hold off challenges from Inter and Fiorentina to their third-placed standing in Serie A.

AS Roma's Radja Nainggolan celebrates after scoring against Inter Milan on Saturday in their Serie A match. Max Rossi / Reuters / March 20, 2016
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Belgium midfielder Radja Nainggolan struck six minutes from time as AS Roma maintained their bid for Champions League football with a 1-1 home draw with Inter Milan that ended their bid for nine consecutive league wins.

Roma's eight-game winning streak has put Luciano Spalletti's men right back in contention for a top three finish as leaders Juventus and Napoli continue their duel for top spot in Serie A.

But Spalletti was forced to think on his feet after Roma, with a five-point lead on both Inter and Fiorentina at the start of the day, failed to conjure a first-half opener and conceded to Ivan Perisic's 53rd minute strike.

The goal sparked Roberto Mancini’s visitors into life but Roma finally awoke from their slumber to level in the 84th minute when Nainggolan pounced on Edin Dzeko’s mis-hit shot to slam the ball past Samir Handanovic.

Roma remain in third place but are now seven points behind Juventus ahead of their city derby with Torino on Sunday, when Napoli, three points behind the champions in second, host Genoa.

By the end, the glass was half-full for Spalletti, who told Sky Sport: “Inter put us in a position of having to defend for a while, they scored and then the lads responded in great fashion.

“But we were losing possession far too much early on and, for the amount of effort we put in, we didn’t fully get into our stride and play our usual game.

“It’s a fair result for us, we can’t complain.”

Inter moved one place up to fourth at the expense of Fiorentina and although the Florence club will benefit most from Saturday’s Stadio Olimpico draw if they win at relegation-haunted Frosinone on Sunday to close the gap on Roma to three points, Mancini was upbeat.

Because Inter beat Roma 1-0 earlier this season, the Milan club would be given the nod if they and Roma both finish level on points in third place.

“For the Champions League, if we finish level on points with Roma we can go through because we have the advantage in our head-to-head games,” Mancini told Mediaset

Inter’s last league win at Roma was in October 2008, and their task was made harder by the absence of both key strikers, Stevan Jovetic and Mauro Icardi.

They lived dangerously in the opening minutes when Diego Perotti, playing up front in place of benched Dzeko, was allowed to fire a first-timer just over from Stephan El Shaarawy’s cutback.

But Perisic threatened twice in the first half, when Mohamed Salah rounded Handanovic to fire into the net, but he was correctly ruled offside.

Spalletti upped the stakes when he replaced Seydou Keita with Dzeko just before the hour, but minutes later the Bosnian flashed just over after being sent through on to Salah’s chip.

Dzeko grappled with Joao Miranda to get his head to Alessandro Florenzi’s cross into the box but met stiff resistance from the Brazilian, who was lucky to escape conceding a penalty soon after when Dzeko’s header came off his arm.

When asked to react to the incident, Mancini was curt: “I’d have to take his arm off. I’ve yet to see a player who jumps keeping his arms down.”

But when Florenzi gave possession away cheaply to Adem Ljajic during a sloppy effort to play the ball out, the Bosnian ran in to set up Eder, only for the ball to ricochet off the Italy striker.

At the other end Salah held off his marker on the turn but drove straight at Handanovic.

Roma had the edge and their efforts were repaid when Nainggolan set up Dzeko to his right on the edge of the area.

The Bosnian made only faint contact, instead rolling the ball into Nainggolan’s path for the Belgian to smash past the Inter keeper.

Mancini battened down the hatches, Felipe Melo replacing attacking midfielder Ljajic and Roma were unlucky in the dying minutes when Salah’s ferocious angled drive came off the shoulder of Dzeko yards from goal.

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