Football: Roma thrash Palermo 5-0 to put Francesco Totti controversy behind them

Roma's Seydou Keita (centre) celebrates with his teammates after scoring the 2-0 lead on Feb 21, 2016.
Roma's Seydou Keita (centre) celebrates with his teammates after scoring the 2-0 lead on Feb 21, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

MILAN (AFP) - Mohamed Salah and Edin Dzeko hit second-half braces in a 5-0 Italian Serie A rout of Palermo as Roma put the drama surrounding Francesco Totti behind them to claim their fifth consecutive victory under Luciano Spalletti on Sunday.

The result pushed Roma up to fourth place, at the expense of Inter Milan, to sit eight points behind leaders Juventus and just two behind Fiorentina in the third and the last Champions League qualifying place.

Days after a 2-0 first leg defeat by Real Madrid severely dented their Champions League last 16 hopes, Roma welcomed Palermo hoping to boost their chances of qualifying for Europe's premier club competition next season.

However, the build-up did not go exactly to plan, as a highly-publicised spat between Spalletti and Totti overshadowed what should have been a straightforward fixture against the struggling Sicilians.

Having recently recovered from a lengthy injury lay-off, Totti was scheduled to make a rare start only to be dramatically excluded on Sunday morning following criticism of Spalletti in a television interview in which he demanded "respect and clarity".

In his 23rd and possibly last season, Totti remains a legendary figure at Roma and despite being only half-full the Olimpico resonated with songs of support for the 39-year-old as he took his seat in the stands, while several banners were dedicated to 'Il Re di Roma' (the King of Rome).

The controversy looked to have swayed Roma's players in a calamitous first half, in which the hosts created a series of half-chances before Dzeko compounded matters by producing the miss of the season.

Dzeko was unmarked yards from the back post when Douglas Maicon cut back from the right byline, but with the goal at his mercy the Bosnian skewed a left-footed shot wide when a small tap-in with his right would have done the trick.

Fortunately for Dzeko, he made amends in quick fashion, chesting down a Miralem Pjanic cross and firing it through Fabrizio Alastra's legs.

Roma re-emerged in determined fashion and doubled their lead seven minutes after the restart when Seydou Keita toe-poked Alessandro Florenzi's corner into the roof of the net.

Salah made up for an opening half miss, when he hit the side-netting, with two quickfire goals on the hour.

Fans were given another treat when Dutchman Kevin Strootman made his comeback 13 months after a second operation on his knee when he replaced Maicon with 13 minutes remaining.

Dzeko capped a memorable night, and weekend, for the hosts when he powered a header from Diego Perotti's cross into the roof of the net in the dying minutes.

Fiorentina held off the threat of Champions League rivals Inter Milan in a dramatic 3-2 win at Atalanta that saw second-half goals from Matias Fernandez, Cristian Tello and Nikloa Kalinic.

Fiorentina remain third at six points behind Juve, who, after a scoreless draw at Bologna on Friday, could lose top spot to Napoli if they beat AC Milan on Monday.