Fiorentina 0-1 Ajax: Van Basten Conquers Firenze (UEFA Cup Round of 32, 1st Leg)

Fiorentina's Adrian Mutu reacts during their UEFA Cup soccer match against Ajax Amsterdam at the A. Franchi stadium in Florence February 19, 2009.

To say that Marco Van Basten shares a special bond with Italy would be like the understatement of the century: his biggest achievements as a player (including the 3 Ballon d’Or and 2 Champions League titles) came during the years spent in the peninsula (as I’m sure AC Milan fans remember fondly). However, since he hung up his boots and donned a sleek Giorgio Armani manager jacket (dunno if it’s Armani actually, but I’m sure he likes to keep it classy) Van Basten seems to take some sort of perverse pleasure at tormenting Italian teams. I don’t have to remind anyone about recent Euro 2008 history, right?

Well yesterday marked yet another notch in MVB’s belt. Like the creepy & mysterious uncle you never like to invite at weddings, the Dutch manager’s Ajax made a trip to the banquet (Stadio Artemio Franchi) on Thursday, blocked traffic (La Viola’s forwards) in the parking lot, ate all the hors d’oeuvres & drank all the booze (their midfield), took a big dump in the wedding cake (their defense), then proceeded to made dirty jokes about the bride (Prandelli) and left the ceremony. But not before unleashing a mean left hook right into the groom’s (Fiorentina) face.

Yeah sounds about right.

UEFA Cup 2008-09 - Fiorentina vs. Ajax

UEFA Cup 2008-09 - Round of 32, 1st Leg - Fiorentina 0-1 Ajax

In all seriousness, few people expected such heavy rain on the Viola parade Thursday. Right from the start of this match Ajax looked anything but a typical Dutch team: a strong defensive mentality, geared towards ball possession & time-wasting and as many passes back to the keeper as possible. Never mind Clockwork Oranje and total football, Johann Cruyff must have been puking in disgust.

The only problem for Fiorentina? Ajax’s strategy worked. Annoyed by their Dutch opponents’ “pig-in-the-middle” display (you know, that training drill where you have one or two people in the middle of a short space trying to intercept the pass between six or more other players) Mutu & friends were really struggling to create anything of merit. It was only through some well-placed (but painstainkingly worked for) counters that La Viola managed to get close to Maarten Stekelenburg, such as Riccardo Montolivo’s incredible miss in minute 17 after dribbling the keeper. But other than that lone chance (plus perhaps a few long-range attempts by Mutu & Gilardino) Prandelli’s boys left little marks in the first half. In fact, Ajax could have even come close to the shocker through Luis Suárez’s volleyed effort, had it not been for Frey’s prompt intervention. 0-0 at the break.

Ajax Amsterdam's Kennedy Bakircioglu celebrates with his team mates and his coach Marco Van Basten (L) after scoring against Fiorentina during their UEFA Cup soccer match at the A. Franchi stadium in Florence February 19, 2009

The second period saw little change in Ajax’s defend-and-pass attitude, which eventually prompted Prandelli to make some offensive changes (Kuzmanovic & Jovetic for Gobbi & Semioli). And yet instead of having positive effects in the front, Fiorentina’s substitutions ended up creating negative effects at the back, with Ajax capitalizing just three minutes later on one of their rare moves forward. After yet another cycle of passing through Leonardo & Emanuelson, the ball eventually landed to Kennedy Bakircioglü (you can guess where he’s from), whose slamming shot from 25 yards hit the underside of the crossbar and went in. No chance for Frey and 1-0 Ajax. Cold shower in Florence.

Fiorentina’s pride had taken a big slap in the face and their reaction didn’t take long to arrive. Finally La Viola started coming closer and closer to Stekelenburg’s area, creating danger in successive scoring attempts. Unfortunately for them, accuracy (and bad luck) was still a big big problem: Gilardino (well set up by Mutu) stumbled over the ball in front of the net, while Kuzmanovic‘s one-time attempt (after a good backheel pass from Gila) had no better luck. It was not to be. After one final attempt by Ajax (Suarez free-kick parried by Frey with his foot) the ref calle full time, leaving Fiorentina frustrated and very uncertain about their European future. Next week’s match at the Amsterdam Arena will not be a pleasant trip.

Fiorentina's Alberto Gilardino (R) reacts after loosing against Ajax during their UEFA Cup round of 32 football match at Florence's Artemio Franchi Stadium on February 19, 2009. (AFP/Getty Images)

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 ACF Fiorentina
FIORENTINA-AJAX
0-1
[Match Highlights]
”AFC
GOALSCORERS: 60’ Bakircioglü (A).
FIORENTINA (4-3-3): Frey – Zauri, Gamberini, Dainelli, Pasqual – Montolivo, Felipe Melo, Gobbi (57’ Kuzmanovic) – Semioli (57’ Jovetic), Mutu, Gilardino. (bench: Storari, Almiron, Kroldrup, Vargas, Donadel). Coach: Prandelli .
AJAX (4-3-3): Stekelemburg – Oleguer, Vermaelen, Schilder (77’ Sno), Van Der Wiel – Anita, Lindgren, Emanuelson – Bakircioglü, Sulejmani (57’ Leonardo), Suarez. (bench: Veermeer, Silva, Martina, Sarpong, Alderweireld). Coach.: Van Basten.

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