Roma qualified from Group C in first place after Diego Perotti’s fifth goal in eight games helped the Serie A side beat minnows Qarabag at the Stadio Olimpico to book their spot in the Champions League last 16.
Eusebio Di Francesco’s Roma came into the game needing a win to be guaranteed qualification to the next round — a draw or defeat would have left them at risk of being overtaken by Atletico Madrid, who had to beat Chelsea.
Atletico took the lead at Stamford Bridge to pile on the pressure — before ultimately holding Chelsea to a 1-1 draw — but Roma did not slip up after Perotti headed home on 53 minutes.
Perotti was left with a simple finish from close range after Edin Dzeko’s effort was saved but not held by Qarabag goalkeeper Ibrahim Sehic.
Sehic kept out Dzeko’s initial shot with his knee, but the ball looped up to Perotti.
Roma attacked right from the first whistle but found it hard to create decent scoring opportunities.
Their best chances of the first period came in stoppage time when Dzeko fired over before Radja Nainggolan saw his effort well saved by Sehic, who also kept out Aleksandar Kolarov’s follow-up.
Sehic impressed between the sticks for Qarabag and pulled off another good save to deny Nainggolan at 1-0, forcing Roma to endure an edgy finale.
And Qarabag almost levelled seven minutes from the end when Wilde-Donald Guerrier crossed for an unmarked Michel but he headed straight at Roma stopper Alisson.
The Chelsea game still had a couple of more minutes to go after the final whistle in Rome.
The entire Roma squad waited in front of their fans and, as soon as the big screen showed it was over, there were huge cheers from players and supporters.
‘It’s a wonderful moment for us,’ Perotti said. ‘When the draw was made, nobody believed in us, but we worked hard and we deserved this first place.
‘It was difficult. They were all behind the ball, it seemed as if they had something to play for. We were patient. These games are more dangerous and we didn’t lose our heads, fighting together for the goal. Now we’re going to enjoy it.’
Roma have come on in leaps and bounds under new coach Di Francesco, especially in Europe. It was only two years ago that they were booed off after drawing with Bate Borisov 0-0.
They failed to even qualify for the group stage last season after losing a playoff to Porto 4-1 on aggregate, including a 3-0 defeat at home.
‘The final result is what we dreamed of,’ said Roma captain Daniele De Rossi. ‘No-one expected it at the time of the draw, this victory is very important for us, for our self-esteem.
‘We have taken a lot of pummelings in Europe, this will also help us boost our image, coming first in a group that was so difficult… Di Francesco has surprised everyone.’