Roma produced a determined and professional display on Thursday to take a vital 2-0 lead in their Europa League last-32 tie with Sporting Braga.
Edin Dzeko and his replacement Borja Mayoral scored the goals for the Giallorossi, two away strikes that put Paulo Fonseca’s side in a strong position ahead of next week’s second leg at the Stadio Olimpico.
But it was an away European win built on steel as well as clinical attacking play; Roma overcoming injuries to defenders Bryan Cristante and Roger Ibanez to nonetheless keep an invaluable clean sheet.
The losses saw Leonardo Spinazzola and Rick Karsdorp forced to deputize in less familiar centre-back roles – but they took to their tasks with relish to help guide the side to victory.
It took just five minutes for the Giallorossi to grab the opener, as Dzeko steered home expertly from Spinazzola’s low cross.
There were further chances – both Pedro and Henrikh Mkhitaryan threatening Braga goalkeeper Matheus – but that was the way it stayed until half-time, and indeed deep into the second half too.
A red card for Ricardo Esgaio midway through the second period seemed to halt Braga just as they were starting to probe and push – and they were punished in the final few moments as Mayoral raced into position to sweep home Mkhitaryan’s squared ball.
The Armenian had been released into space by Stephan El Shaarawy; the Italy international making an impact on his second debut for the club.
“We won, it feels good,” El Shaarawy said afterwards. “We have a lot of quality players and I hope to make a contribution as soon as possible.
“It was a tough game, Braga are hard to face. But we were aggressive, focused and after losing two players to injuries we dug in to get the result.”
Roma will now have to regroup – and see how bad the defensive injuries are – ahead of next week’s second leg.
Prior to that, they travel to face Benevento in Serie A on Sunday night.