By Alasdair Mackenzie
ROME (Reuters) – AS Roma edged ahead in Serie A’s tight race for Champions League qualification as a 3-0 home win over Cagliari on Saturday sent Claudio Ranieri’s side into fourth place.
Federico Fazio and Javier Pastore scored inside the opening eight minutes before Aleksandar Kolarov added a third late on as the visitors offered little resistance.
“It’s our best performance since I arrived,” Ranieri told Sky Sport Italia.
“We scored two goals early on and the lads felt reassured. I often say few squads have as much quality as them, so I urged them to pass it around, choose what was best for the team and not be egotistical with their decisions. They did that perfectly.”
The victory means Roma now have 58 points, two ahead of AC Milan and Atalanta on 56.
However, both those sides can restore a one-point lead over the capital club by beating Torino and Udinese respectively in their league fixtures over the next two days.
Cagliari launched an extraordinary recovery when these two teams met in August last year, coming back from two goals down to draw 2-2 in the final six minutes despite having two players sent off.
However, they showed no signs of offering such a challenge this time around as Fazio rose unmarked to head in after just five minutes.
Pastore was a surprise inclusion in the team, making his first league start since September, but repaid Ranieri’s faith as he doubled Roma’s advantage three minutes later with a curling finish from the edge of the box.
“The players do their talking in training,” said the coach.
“I had already thought about using him last week because of what he was doing in training and this confirms that initial impression.”
The home team continued to threaten and were twice denied by the woodwork, with Pastore’s shot striking the crossbar before an Edin Dzeko effort deflected off Cagliari captain Luca Ceppitelli and came back off the post.
Roma eventually got their third when goalkeeper Alessio Cragno smothered an effort from substitute Diego Perotti into the path of Kolarov, who made no mistake from close range.
Elsewhere, Empoli’s chances of avoiding relegation took a hit in the early kick off when they surrendered the lead to lose 3-1 away to Bologna. The Tuscan side are four points adrift of the safety zone in 18th place with four games remaining.
(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie; Editing by Christian Radnedge)