Standing side by side in the old Stadio Comunale tunnel before the first leg of the 1990 UEFA Cup Final, the Juventus players and the visiting Fiorentina side could not have symbolised more contrasting fortunes. The Bianconeri were obvious favourites and, despite suffering from the break-up of the superb team which subjugated Italian football a few years earlier, they had returned to form under Coach Dino Zoff.
After contesting the title for most of the season, witnessing the evolution of Toto Schillaci, and taken three points off Fiorentina in the League, they had also beaten Milan in the Italian Cup Final. In short they were completely confident.
Fiorentina, on the other hand, had struggled all season and their players knew that their beloved No 10 Roberto Baggio would soon be playing in the black and white of the men opposite. Furthermore all their best players had already left or were being cashed-in on, plus the club’s serious financial problems meant it would soon be sold itself.
However, with new Coach Francesco Graziani eventually saving them from relegation there had been an air of assurance over Florence. Sadly that air of optimism soon burst as their fans began to hear the rumours that golden boy Baggio, the League’s second top scorer, was to be sold to, of all people, Juve, the hated enemy. All hell broke loose in Florence with fans rioting in the streets for three days and the club’s headquarters in the city being laid to siege in the build up to the game.
The Final itself was the first time that two Serie A sides had met up in the ultimate stage of the UEFA Cup. For Juve with the first leg being held in Turin, it was a chance for them to say goodbye to their legendary Stadio Comunale that had held so many great memories. The following season they would be playing in the Italia ’90 purpose built Stadio Delle Alpi so they wanted to go out in style.
“To win today is very important and we have to do everything we can to realise this objective,” said Zoff before the game. “The players are full of confidence and we have had a great time celebrating the Italian Cup win. But that is all behind us now and today the game against Fiorentina is the only thing on our minds.”
For Fiorentina it was a chance to get one over their hated rivals who had “stolen” the 1982 Scudetto from them and were soon to steal their beautiful No 10, who tried to play down the animosity. “All I want is for people to remember that it is not a war,” pleaded Baggio. “Let’s just play the game as it should be, it is after all just a game.”
It may have been just a game for Baggio, but not for the respective fans as there was a dark, foreboding atmosphere pervading some parts of the stadium, despite the bright and bountiful banners at either end. There was certainly no love lost between the opposing supporters and as soon as the whistle went that mutual loathing off it began to be felt on the pitch.
Read the full article in Soccer Italia magazine, available now on worldwide subscription.