Cesare Prandelli had said it, and La Viola players knew it all too well: the 2-0 first leg win obtained at Stadio Artemio Franchi was a good result, but by no means guaranteed qualification to the next UEFA Cup round. The Everton players would be really fighting for their soul at Goodison Park, determined to cancel their bad performance in Florence, and remind their Italian opponents why their Premier League ranking puts them in contention for a Champions League spot. Fortunately for Fiorentina, a certain Sebastien Frey was keeping guard in the Viola net, and while the French keeper could have done a lot better on Everton’s first goal, his performance was absolutely spotless for the remaining 120 minutes, including the decisive penalty shoot-out. Vive Frey!
Tactically, there were no surprises in the Fiorentina ranks tonight: Christian Vieri occupied the center spot in the attacking trio, supported by Martin Jorgensen and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo. Manuel Pasqual started the match over Massimo Gobbi as left-back. On the other end, David Moyes had to do without the services of Tim Cahill (who picked up a knock in training) but could count on a fully recovered Mikel Arteta, ready to supply strikers Andrew Johnson and Aiyegbeni Yakubu with accurate passes.
Speaking of Arteta and Johnson, the two Toffee players would be the biggest source of danger to the Viola backline tonight, in addition to putting their name on the two aggregate-tying goals. Much like the rest of the Everton team, they seemed completely transformed compared to their performance in Florence just a week ago, and while Johnson‘s tally appeared to be the result of luck more than skill (coupled with Frey’s mistake), the Spaniard’s long-range piledriver was a marvel of precision and execution, quite similar in fact to Steven Gerrard’s effort vs. Inter Milan. Both goals were scored in Liverpool, albeit in different stadiums… coincidence?
With that being said, after the Toffees’ early 1-0 tally in minute 16, the Fiorentina backline was really pushed to the ropes: Alessandro Gamberini and Dario Dainelli were sweating bullets in trying to contain Yakubu’s and Johnson’s runs, while Sebastien Frey kept being called into action (let me rephrase… called into super action). The French keeper saved his team’s hide at least 3 times during the first half (parrying shots by Yakubu, Osman, and Johnson), but unfortunately even his best efforts could do little on Arteta’s long-ranger in minute 66.
What about La Viola’s striking force? Well, Bobo Vieri was on the field… or was he really? Bobo was so ‘invisible’ during the first 45 minutes that Prandelli decided to substitute him with Giampaolo Pazzini after the break. This turned out to be quite a good move, because the speed and agility of the young Under-21 Italian international forced the Everton defense to constantly mark him, allowing the rest of the Fiorentina team to play higher up the field and get a little bit of breathing space. It was no coincidence to see La Viola’s biggest scoring chance arise precisely from Pazzini, as the Fiorentina striker powered a strong header below the bar in minute 75, forcing Tim Howard to his only real save of the night.
After 90 minutes, the Fiorentina players were glad to take this game into overtime, given they had been clearly dominated by their opponents for much of the proceedings. With some luck, they would take this to penalties and beat the Toffees then. Before that happened however, Everton had two good chances to make it 3-0 through Yakubu, but found the last-ditch tackles the Viola backline protecting Frey. Pazzini could then have clinched it in minute 118, but his shot from outside the box was wide of the mark.
So on to penalties it went. With Goodison Park’s ‘hostile’ (to put it lightly) atmosphere, the psychological advantage was clearly favoring Everton. All that changed however, the very second Yakubu put his shot onto the post, giving Fiorentina a one goal lead. Subsquently, after Pazzini, Montolivo and Osvaldo transformed their spot-kicks, Frey turned once again miracle worker by stopping Phil Jagielka’s effort and setting up the win on a platter for Mario Santana. The Argentine midfielder did not miss, and put La Viola through to the Quarter-Finals.
Who will Fiorentina be playing then? We will know in Nyon Friday, the day for which the European Cups draw is scheduled. One thing’s for sure though: despite some very fond memories of common history together, every Fiorentina fan is hoping to avoid a confrontation with Bayern Munich and a certain Luca Toni.
2-0 (4-4 p.s.o.)
|GOALSCORERS: 16′ A.Johnson (E), 66’ Arteta (E)|
|PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Everton (E) goal, Pazzini (F) goal, Yakubu (E) post, Montolivo (F) goal, Arteta (E) goal, Osvaldo (F) goal, Jagielka (E) saved, Santana (F) goal|
|EVERTON (4-4-2): Howard – P.Neville, Yobo, Jagielka, Lescott – Carsley, Arteta, Pienaar (106’ Anichebe), Osman, Yakubu, A.Johnson (119’ Gravesen). (bench: Wessel, Hibbert, Baines N.Valente, M.Fernandes). Coach: Moyes.|
|FIORENTINA (4-3-3): Frey – Ujfalusi, Gamberini, Dainelli, Pasqual – Kuzmanovic (91’ Gobbi), Donadel, Montolivo – Jorgensen (106’ Santana), Vieri (46’ Pazzini), Osvaldo. (bench: Avramov, Potenza, Kroldrup, Cacia). Coach: Prandelli|