Balde brace ruins Totti’s final derby


Milan (AFP) – Keita Balde struck twice as Lazio ruined Francesco Totti’s final derby as a player on Sunday with a thrilling 3-1 win over Roma that could also jeopardise their push for a top-two finish in Serie A.

Roma hosted their city rivals looking to maintain their fading title challenge to leaders Juventus after a 2-2 at Atalanta Saturday took their lead to nine points with four games remaining.

But Juve’s slip-up wasn’t enough to entice Roma on what should have been Totti’s derby farewell as his final season in Italy’s top flight draws to a close 

Luciano Spalletti’s men physically turned up at the Stadio Olimpico, but mentally looked elsewhere as they struggled to impose their usual, fast-flowing game against a Lazio side battling for a place in Europe.

Roma enjoyed a bright start, Edin Dzeko notably firing over while under pressure from six yards out.

But the red and yellow half of the Stadio Olimpico was stunned into silence before the quarter-hour when Balde collected a perfect through ball from deep in midfield to sidestep two defenders and fire through the legs of Emerson Palmieri to wrong-foot Wojciech Szczesny in the Roma net. 

Lazio could have done further damage, but Jordan Lukaku was denied what looked like a clear penalty when he was brought down by Fazio after he powered his his way into the area from the left.

Over-run in midfield and struggling for solutions in the final third, Spalletti turned to the Roma fans, gesturing for their vocal support as his side failed to fire.

But on 36 minutes Lazio almost had their second when Balde broke free on the right.

Although he was dispossessed by Fazio’s toe-poke, Marco Parolo followed up with a rasping low drive that Szczesny pushed to safety.

Dzeko had a previous claims for a penalty waved away but Roma’s luck changed in dramatic fashion when Kevin Strootman came down following a swipe at his feet by Lazio defender Wallace.

Although television pictures suggested no contact had been made on the Dutchman, the decision stood and Daniele De Rossi stepped up to roll a cheeky low shot inside Thomas Strakosha’s near post to level on the stroke of half-time.

But Lazio resumed in positive fashion, Keita breaking down the left to cut back for Parolo, before he was dispossessed.

And although Dzeko flashed a drive off the post from Salah’s smart delivery, the Giallorossi were forever playing catch-up behind an energised and far more organised Lazio side.

Five minutes after the restart Roma’s defence stood back to allow Dusan Basta a free shot on goal and paid the price.

His effort deflected off a Roma defender before creeping past Szczesny and inside the near post. 

Totti, who has enjoyed only a handful of cameo appearances this season, replaced De Rossi for the final 17 minutes.

On one of his first touches, the 40-year-old was dispossessed by Lucas Biglia, who set up Felipe Anderson for a counter that saw Szczesny pull off a great save with his trailing leg to thwart the Brazilian.

But Lazio weren’t to be denied. On another counter Lulic was allowed to run half the length of the pitch before finding Balde with a precision pass inside the area for the striker to slot past Szczesny five minutes from the end.

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