Fiorentina lost 1-0 at home to Grasshoppers, but scraped through to the Europa League group phase on away goals.
The Viola were in a good position to qualify after winning the play-off first leg 2-1 in Zurich, but opted to rest Giuseppe Rossi, Massimo Ambrosini and Alberto Aquilani in favour of Joaquin, Mati Fernandez and David Pizarro. Grasshoppers mirrored Vincenzo Montella’s tactical system with Veroljub Salatic in front of the defence and Ben Khalifa partnering Anat Ngakumol.
Grasshoppers had an aggressive start, as Shkelzen Gashi’s header looped over the bar, while Joaquin scuffed a volley in the box.
Juan Cuadrado should’ve scored when Joaquin burst down the right and pulled back, but the Colombian ballooned over the bar from a very promising position.
Nenad Tomovic drilled a low shot from the edge of the box that was well parried by Roman Burki. Joaquin wasted another golden opportunity, chesting down a ball over the top only to blast well over on the volley.
Grasshoppers had a fantastic chance to take the lead on 37 minutes. Neto only punched a corner and it was put back in for a Salatic header, but the goalkeeper recovered by fingertipping it out from under the crossbar with a fine reaction save.
Mario Gomez had the ball in the back of the net for the first time in a Fiorentina jersey, but it didn’t count because he was offside when Borja Valero floated in the free kick.
However, 60 seconds later it was Grasshoppers who took the lead in Florence. Pizarro’s backpass came to Neto, but the goalkeeper’s clearance was terrible and made it a piece of cake for Ben Khalifa to deposit into an empty net.
Fiorentina were still in front, but only on away goals at this point. The tension was rising and Gashi’s header was straight at Neto.
Montella made a surprise change at the break, introducing Josip Ilicic for Cuadrado and switching to a 4-3-3 system.
Ngakumol’s shot was easily smothered by Neto and Borja Valero had the same fate at the other end. Pizarro hit a screamer from distance that Burki parried, but Manuel Pasqual was offside as he tried to get the rebound.
Izet Hajrovic blasted just over the bar when a loose ball fell to him on the edge of the box, as Fiorentina continued to live very dangerously indeed.
The tension got to Fiorentina, as their greatest strength – their passing – faltered with a series of unforced errors. Gomez had a chance on the counter, but his angled drive flashed across the face of goal.
Hajrovic threatened again with a strike that skimmed the base of the upright from the D with seven minutes left on the clock.
Borja Valero burst into the box to the by-line and pulled back, but Burki managed a crucial intervention to stop Ilicic tapping in at the near post. Aquilani and Marko Bakic combined to stop him clearing, but the ex-Roma man was booked when it was his teammate who actually pushed the ball out of the goalkeeper’s hands.
It was an unusually poor performance from the Tuscans, but they held on for the result.
Fiorentina 0-1 Grasshopper (2-2 on agg)
Scorers: Ben Khalifa 41 (G)
Fiorentina: Neto; Tomovic, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Savic; Pizarro; Cuadrado (Ilicic 46), Borja Valero, Fernandez (Bakic 85), Pasqual; Joaquin (Aquilani 62), Gomez
Grasshopper: Burki; M Lang, Grichting, Vilotic; Salatic; Gashi (Hajrovic 74), Abrashi, Toko, Pavlovic; Ben Khalifa (Vonlanthen 84), Ngamukol (Caio 84)