Juventus enjoyed the lunchtime offering. Kwadwo Asamoah’s moment of magic was as succulent as a prime cut of bistecca alla fiorentina. Four days later they hoped for another tasty treat. Instead, dinner did not sit as well and it’s the Viola, thanks to Mario Gomez, who are salivating.
Just like in the pair’s last European encounter, the 1989-90 UEFA Cup Final, the Bianconeri got off to a flyer. On that May evening it took less than 180 seconds for Roberto Galia to find the net. Fast forward to match two of 2014’s three-part epic and another midfielder, Arturo Vidal, fired Juventus ahead in the third minute after good interplay on the edge of the penalty area. First bite to Juve.
If the home fans were hoping for a repeat of the 3-1 score, they would be disappointed. By the final whistle it was Fiorentina grinning as they left Juventus Stadium with a 1-1 draw. With the game in a lull, Gomez pounced. He latched on to Josip Ilicic’s 79th minute through ball, his first touch sublime to take Gianluigi Buffon out of the equation, before finishing into an empty net. It was a reminder of what the Viola had been missing ever since Gomez clutched his knee last September against Cagliari. Advantage Fiorentina.
Viola midfielder Borja Valero praised their fighting qualities: “We weren’t set out well defensively at the start and Juve came out fighting, but after the goal we had the courage to take control of the ball in a very difficult stadium to play in.”
A fired-up Bianconeri greeted the Gigliati from the outset. They may well have extended their early lead. Vidal was denied by the woodwork, while Pablo Osvaldo and Sebastian Giovinco – dominant against Trabzonspor – combined to see the pint-sized striker stopped by Neto. Such was Giovinco’s performance, by the time he was substituted the jeers of a month ago were replaced by warm cheers.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic - Alessandro Matri, Mati Fernandez and Valero had chances to reduce the deficit before half-time, but Juve had the better of a pulsating half. With the interval came a reinvigorated Viola.
Vincenzo Montella was outfoxed by Antonio Conte on the weekend, but came out on top here. His three substitutions turned the game purple. Massimo Ambrosini tightened the midfield when replacing Mati Fernandez, while Gomez offered the clinical edge and presence in attack Matri did not. Juan Vargas then added more bite in the final stages when replacing Aquilani.
Valero felt Fiorentina were rewarded for their performance: “Considering the way the game went with that early goal, I’d say we were fantastic. We played our game with the ball and in the end got that goal that will be fundamental in the second leg.”
In contrast, Juventus never got out of the blocks after half-time. On Sunday the Turin club sat deeper to combat Fiorentina’s counter-attacking strength, so was this a ploy from Conte again? “I absolutely do not tell my players to control a 1-0 lead, as I always urge them to score a second and third goal.” Perhaps, as he noted, it’s more a psychological characteristic. Although by the end of the contest they fielded just one striker.
The second period took a similar pattern to matches against Sampdoria, Verona, Chievo and Torino. Each time Juve held a half-time lead but looked fragile following the break. Conte’s men do not give away a host of opportunities, but when faced with some pressure can buckle. Fiorentina took theirs to change the complexion of the tie.
“Maybe we thought, considering in recent games we had controlled the second half well, that we could do so again,” mused Buffon.
Juve’s scorer was left with a bad taste in his mouth. “I am very bitter, as it was a bad performance. There are still 90 minutes to go and we have to win at the Stadio Franchi,” said Vidal.
As the Chilean noted, Juventus must go to Florence and triumph, or claim a 2-2 draw or higher. Fiorentina will advance with a scoreless draw, but Montella is banking on goals: “We are by no means favourites. Fiorentina have scored regularly for the last two years, so at most we have a slight advantage.”
The Viola are the only team to defeat Juventus domestically. It’s a match Juve will want to forget, but aside from that October capitulation their record at the Artemio Franchi is strong. It was their first loss there since 1998.
The tie, tinged in purple, remains delicately balanced. It makes for a fascinating second leg, one which could be determined by the approach taken by the tacticians in this elongated half-time interval.