Less fancy playing, better defending, more cynical finishing. This will be Fiorentina‘s lesson tonight after their elimination from the 2008-09 UEFA Champions League. And it sounds like an awfully familiar one. The kind that spectacular but inexperienced teams are forced to learn, as indeed La Viola’s return to Europe’s top competition demonstrated. 8 years after their last appearance, Fiorentina’s adventure ends in the Group Stage.
As for Lyon, they proved that winning seven Ligue 1 titles in a row can be a useful experience. You know, for European cups and stuff.
Tactically, there weren’t many surprises in Cesare Prandelli’s Viola selection: the usual 4-3-3 formation, with Mario Santana alternating between the midfield (Kuzmanovic-Felipe Melo-Montolivo) and striker lines (Mutu-Gilardino). On the other end, Lyon manager Claude Puel fielded an almost identical line-up, with Karim Benzema occupying the central striker position alongside Kader Keita and Sydney Govou. On paper two rather similar formations, but which in practice delineated the overwhelming fearsomeness of the French side.
Fiorentina started the match strongly, certainly not by shortage of motivation. A win tonight was absolutely necessary to keep their Champions League hopes alive, and even if the had to settle for the UEFA Cup, the team was determined to show their crowd they’d at least be fighting for it. So everyone tried their luck, from Mutu (header) to Gilardino, right through to Montolivo, the squad’s long-range specialist as Saturday’s match against Udinese demonstrated.
On the other end however was a team much less concerned about table rankings, and therefore that much more relaxed. And the step from “relaxed” to “cynical” being such a short one, Lyon wasted very little time to take matters into their own hands, Karim Benzema first in the list. In the first half hour, the Lyon striker made his apperance only two times, but they left one hell of an impression: first, he provided a pinpoint assist for Jean Makoun‘s goal just inside the box, then he exploited a stolen ball by Juninho and took off on his own, firing a right-footed effort to double Lyon’s lead. 1-0 and 2-0 Lyon within minutes.
The match at this point seemed over: Lyon continued to attack, finding even the woodwork through another Juninho Pernambucano free-kick. Fiorentina were in obvious difficulty at the back, but to their credit continued to believe in themselves, even at the cost of potentially being caught by their opponents’ devastating counterattacks. Shortly before the half Adrian Mutu levelled the woodwork count, which spearheaded the way towards Alberto Gilardino well-directed header (exploiting a Santana cross) and bringing La Viola back in the match. 2-1 at the half.
In the second period, Prandelli stirred things up in defence by bringing Per Kroldrup on, after which Fiorentina immediately threw themselves forward. The warning bells from the other side came quickly however: Juninho (unleashing another masterly free-kick onto the crossbar) and Benzema were taking the Viola defense for a spin, and it seemed as if whoever scored next would get a decisive grab onto this match. Mutu (narrowly wide shot after a good Gilardino lay-up) and Kuzmanovic (left-footed shot deflected onto the post) came awfully close to it, as the game continued with a mixture of entertainment and scoring chances.
Eventually, Prandelli decided it was time to play all of his remaining offensive cards, introducing Pablo Daniel Osvaldo and Stevan Jovetic into the mix. Fiorentina were now effectively playing with a 4-2-4 formation and more chances abunded (Gila’s and Osvaldo’s headers just wide of the post), but the biggest “OMG” moment was the work of Ederson (on for Keita), unleashing a spectacular half-volley onto… yup you’ve guessed it: the crossbar.
In the end however no more goals were scored, and Lyon took their qualification home with them rather deservedly. The Viola were left with a double certainty: Fiorentina is a team that can play the game. It just needs time to build up the experience to finish it.
|GOALSCORERS: 15’ Makoun (L), 27’ Benzema (L), 45’ Gilardino (F).
| FIORENTINA (4-3-1-2): Frey – Zauri, Gamberini, Dainelli (46’ Kroldrup), Vargas – Kuzmanovic, Felipe Melo (78’ Osvaldo), Montolivo, Santana (54’ Jovetic) – Mutu, Gilardino (bench: Storari, Gobbi, Almirón, Pazzini). Coach: Prandelli.
| LYON (4-1-2-3): Lloris – Mensah, Cris, Boumsong, Grosso – Toulalan – Juninho, Makoun – Keita (80’ Ederson), Benzema (90’ Piquionne), Govou (bench: Vercoutre, Faure, Kallström, Mounier, Fred). Coach: Puel.