Serie A: Roma Stunned by Cagliari but Still the Best Team in the World
Cagliari came within touching distance of becoming the unofficial best club side in the world courtesy of a stunning late fightback against Roma.
The match, Roma's latest defence of Barney Corkhill's Unofficial World Club Championship (UWCC ), was played at Cagliari's Sant'Elia ground, a stadium which had reaped rewards for the home side in recent matches, with five games without defeat, including four wins, one of which was over giants Juventus.
But Roma were in formidable form too.
A ten match unbeaten streak in all competitions had catapulted Claudio Ranieri's men up to fourth in the table, a spot they needed to hang on to if they wanted to swap the Europa League for the Champions League next season.
Both sides were looking to hit the ground running after the winter break, and a win to kick off 2010 would be the perfect way to do that.
Neither side managed maximum points, however, as Cagliari, on the day David Beckham made his return to Serie A, launched a phenomenal comeback of their own late on to make it 2-2.
Roma were without instrumental captain Francesco Totti, which may have opened the door for new loanee Luca Toni, but Ranieri decided to make the Italian wait for his return to Serie A football.
Even if he had played, the likelihood of him seeing much of the ball was slim, as Cagliari dominated the early possession.
They weren't short on chances either, but they found an in-form Julio Sergio blocking the way on a number of occasions.
Diego Lopez threatened first as his glancing header from a corner forced the Roma shot-stopper to beat the ball away.
They had another great chance on the 20-minute mark, this time through danger-man Andrea Lazzari. His finish, however, didn't match up to his sublime skill inside the box that created the chance, and Julio Sergio watched it bobble wide.
Less than a minute later, Simone Perrotta almost made the home side pay. Mirko Vucinic's clever pass into the penalty area found the Italian, but his early, angled shot went just wide of Federico Marchetti's post.
That chance seemed to settle Roma down somewhat, and they began crafting openings of their own. Julio Baptista, amidst fierce speculation over his future, showed the Giallorossi fans what they would be missing if he left with some nice footwork before powering his strike just over the crossbar.
That effort paled into comparison with Lazzari's after 35 minutes, however. A thunderous shot from 30-yards out was only just kept out by a magnificent fingertip save from Julio Sergio.
The Roma 'keeper was called into action again minutes later as Andrea Cossu's curling effort was goal-bound, and once again he was equal to the challenge.
Julio Baptisita threatened again before the half was through, once more firing narrowly over from the edge of the box, much to the helpless Marchetti's relief.
Apart from an early scare courtesy of an Alessandro Matri effort, Roma started the second half in much better form, and this was rewarded in the 51st minute.
A pass into Vucinic enticed Alessandro Agostini enough to make a clumsy challenge, and sure enough Vucinic fell to the ground and Roma were given the penalty.
Up stepped David Pizarro, and the man from Chile made no mistake, giving Roma the 1-0 lead.
And they doubled that lead just over ten minutes later through Perrotta.
A fine sweeping move found Roger Taddei who embarked upon a dangerous run into the Cagliari penalty area before feeding the ball to Perrotta who swept it into the net despite slipping.
Cagliari almost provided a magnificent reply soon after when Matri and Cossu linked up in delightful fashion. A beautifully weighted chipped through ball from Matru found Cossi who's first time strike was hooked just over the bar.
And they nearly got another wonder-goal as time wore on, this time through sub Joaquin Larrivey. His superb volley from an acute angle, almost Van Basten -esque, clipped the Roma crossbar before going out of play.
The home side's efforts looked like going unrewarded as the match entered stoppage time, but there were a few twists yet to come.
As the clock ticked into the red, Cagliari won a corner which caused all sorts of problems inside the Roma box.
Diego Lopez took advantage of the ensuing melee by stroking the ball past Julio Sergio to give the home side an unlikely lifeline, prompting furious complaints by the Roma players who thought there was a foul in the build-up.
Then, incredibly, Cagliari got a second three minutes into stoppage time.
A long ball up-field found Larrivey who's first time volley was well saved by Julio Sergio. Unfortunately for the Roma 'keeper, however, he parried it straight into the path of Daniele Conti who stroked the ball home, sparking wild celebrations on the pitch and in the stands.
It was a fantastic, dramatic match and a great way to start 2010, although fans of Roma may disagree with me on that point!
The match was the 50th time the UWCC has been defended in a domestic league match, and the 75th time overall!
90.9 percent of voters in the poll correctly predicted that Roma would avoid defeat to Cagliari, but I'm sure many of them were expecting that result!
Roma 2-1 Fulham (Roma become new champions)
Cagliari 2-2 Roma
( Click here to see the complete history of Barney Corkhill's Unofficial World Club Championship)
Roma's next title defence comes on Saturday as they host mid-table Chievo.
Barney's prediction: Roma 3-1 Chievo
Form book (last five matches): Roma - WDWWD; Chievo - WWWLL
What are your predictions for this upcoming fixture?
Can Chievo topple Roma and become the world's best club side?
Video highlights of Cagliari 2-2 Roma can be seen here.
Current Serie A league table (courtesy of BBC Sport) :
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