Fiorentina dominated possession, but needed a late Stevan Jovetic brace to wipe out Maicosuel’s Udinese opener in this exciting 2-1 victory.
The season kicked off at the Stadio Artemio Franchi with several changes, including a 12-man bench and goal-line referees in every Serie A match. A revamped Viola side took on an Udinese team distracted by the Champions League play-off, as Francesco Guidolin made eight changes from the line-up that held Sporting Braga to a 1-1 draw on Wednesday.
Adem Ljajic returned to the top flight for the first time since his infamous brawl with Coach Delio Rossi in the dug-out on May 2, though Alberto Aquilani was only fit enough for the bench.
Luis Muriel wasted an early chance by scuffing his shot straight at Emiliano Viviano, while a Ljajic free kick was easily captured. The tempo was quite slow in the blistering August sunshine, especially as Italy is in the middle of an unprecedented heatwave at the moment.
The first genuine save was on 23 minutes as Ljajic spun round to control a David Pizarro pass and his fierce shot was well beaten away by Zeljko Brkic. Romulo’s snapshot from distance was deflected on to the side-netting by Danilo’s shoulder.
However, it was Udinese who took the lead when Maicosuel was sent through the middle by Muriel to spring the offside trap and kept his cool, rolling an angled drive off the inside of the far post. Former Botafogo star ‘O’Mago’ managed to score on his Serie A debut with his first attempt on goal.
Ljajic again tried from distance, but Brkic judged the dip correctly, also blocking a dangerous Stevan Jovetic angled drive and long-range missile from the Montenegrin. Borja Valero’s diving header was deflected past the post, as it became clear why Fiorentina are looking for a centre-forward on the transfer market.
After the restart Muriel again went clear one-on-one with Gonzalo Rodriguez, but this time the former Villarreal defender managed to charge down the shot. Brkic made a huge mistake when he fumbled an easy catch, but Jovetic wasn’t expecting the howler and could not take advantage.
Jovetic also hesitated in the box and was tackled by Tomas Heurtaux, though Ljajic then spun round in the D and forced Brkic to fingertip over the bar. Juan Cuadrado made his Fiorentina bow against the team that still owns half his contract, while Mounir El Hamdaoui made his Serie A debut.
Fiorentina were pushing hard, but needed a stroke of luck to get the equaliser. Jovetic’s shot took a huge deflection off Danilo to loop into the air and over a helpless Brkic.
The Viola thought they had taken the lead moments later with Cuadrado’s cross-shot from the tightest of angles, but it was cleared off the line. The referee pointed to the spot for a penalty until he was told the handling offence was by El Hamdaoui.
Ex-Ajax striker El Hamdaoui burst past Heurtaux only to hit the side-netting from a very promising position. It was a siege on the Friuli goal now and Aquilani also made his Fiorentina debut, but 65 per cent possession was not enough to pick up all three points.
At the 88th minute Manuel Pasqual curled a free kick over the defensive wall, but it cracked against the upright.
The drama wasn’t over yet, as in stoppages Jovetic got down the left, hooked down a cross-field pass and faced off Heurteaux before placing a snooker-shot into the far bottom corner to send the Stadio Franchi crowd wild.
The crowd included President Andrea Della Valle, who was celebrating like an ultra in the stands and sweating straight through his lilac shirt.