Jan 5 - AS Roma's Serie A title challenge imploded against Serie A leaders Juventus on Sunday as they had two players sent off in less than a minute in an emphatic 3-0 defeat which ended their unbeaten run this season.
Roma stalwart Daniele De Rossi was dismissed for a reckless lunging tackle and Leandro Castan followed for punching the ball off the goalline from the resulting free kick in a demoralising defeat, the first since Frenchman Rudi Garcia took over as coach.
Juventus, champions for the last two seasons, stamped their authority on Serie A again as they moved eight points clear of second-placed Roma, threatening to run away with another title with more than half the season still to play.
Roma brought the best defensive record with only seven goals conceded before the match but were undone by uncharacteristically shoddy play at the back which allowed Arturo Vidal and Leonardo Bonucci to put Juventus 2-0 ahead.
Mirko Vucinic made it a rout by firing home the penalty following Castan's handball as Juventus completed their 10th successive league win, a run which included a victory by the same score over third-placed Napoli.
Roma nearly finished with eight men but Adem Ljajic was let off with a yellow card for a rough tackle on Paul Pogba.
Possibly sensing that the visitors were losing their heads, referee Nicola Rizzoli blew the final whistle without playing any stoppage time.
Roma captain Francesco Totti, who wound up Juventus beforehand by saying in a newspaper interview that their team "tend to get a little bit of help", also had an unhappy evening.
After a largely ineffective performance, the 37-year-old Roma talisman was substituted in the 72nd minute to a predictable chorus of jeers.
"That sort of talk is an alibi for people who don't win, they always have an excuse ready," Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon told reporters.
Juventus coach Antonio Conte refused to get carried away.
"I am only ever moderately satisfied until we achieve our targets so this is just a stepping stone," he told Sky Sports Italia. "Our satisfaction therefore has to remain moderate."
"There's an entire second half of the season to go and we must do well. These eight points are important, but must not become an illusion because if they rob us of the concentration and desire we need, then we'll be in real trouble. Anything could happen."
Roma started brightly but Juve struck in the 17th minute when Carlos Tevez collected the ball from a throw-in, ran into the penalty area and flicked the ball to Vidal. The Chilean, who had escaped the attention of the Roma defence, easily slipped his shot past Morgan De Sanctis.
They went further ahead with another simple goal three minutes into the second half as Andrea Pirlo curled over a free kick and Bonucci, completely unmarked at the far post, slid the ball home.
Roma enjoyed a long spell of pressure but failed to offer much of a threat with Totti over-hitting too many free kicks and corners before being substituted.
Their capitulation began when the fiery De Rossi was sent off for a two-footed lunged tackle on Giorgio Chiellini in the 75th minute. From the resulting free kick, Pirlo floated over another inviting cross which found Bonucci, whose header was going in until Castan punched the ball away and was sent off.
Vucinic fired in the penalty to complete Roma's misery.
"We had plenty of possession but were not very efficient up front," said Garcia. "For me, it's a question of efficiency. The championship is not over, there are still 60 points to play for." (Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne, editing by Ed Osmond) (Brian.firstname.lastname@example.org) Reuters Messaging: email@example.com. To sign up for our Global Sports Forum chatroom, click on https://forms.thomsonreuters.com/global_sports_forum
(Reporting by Brian Homewood)