Today in front of a raucous and admirably LOUD crowd at Goodison Park in Liverpool, Everton defeated Fiorentina 2-0 in the second leg of their UEFA Cup tie. This sent the match first into 30 minutes of extra time and then to a penalty shootout, which was won by Fiorentina 4-2. Fiorentina played pretty poorly today (excepting the God-like Sebastien Frey, who I will get to in a moment) but they did enough to win the overall battle and advance to the next round. For better or worse, I will take it.
I was a mess watching this game; alternatively screaming and hiding under the covers, elated and exhausted all in a single game. By the second extra time period I was so drained I was almost watching the game with a haughty indifference. By the penalty kicks, I could muster little more than a meager fist pump following Frey’s masterful save: I had exhausted myself physically and emotionally.
Curiously, this game was almost a mirror image of the first leg: The home team played beautifully, launched attack after attack, and were unlucky not to win by three or four goals. Both teams were saved by fantastic performances from goalkeepers. In the end, Fiorentina had the better goalkeeper, and had a bit stronger nerve in the shootout. One thing is clear, however, and that is that I was right in my preview of the first leg: these teams are nearly identical, and Everton really is the bizzaro Fiorentina. I hope they meet in the Champion’s league next year.
Everton attack from the get-go and have a dangerous free kick inside of a minute. I write in my notebook that Everton looks as good as Fiorentina did last week. Dainelli, thank Christ, also looks good and remains so all night. In the 16th, Andy Johnson “accidentally” scores a goal with his chin. Ugliest goal I’ve ever seen, but it still counts. And I’ll give Johnson credit for working like a dog all night.
In the 19th Arteta balloons one over the Fiorentina goal, but I am getting worried. I had just written down that Vieri was “invisible.” We need someone else up front. Everton has a dangerous free kick in the 23rd and starts piling up the corner kicks. It’s amazing one didn’t go it. In the 26th Johnson dives in the box but doesn’t get the yellow he deserved; his post-football career as the new “Mr. Clean” spokesman is still secure, however. In the 29th minute I write in my notebook that Tim Howard should get a chair, since he hasn’t had to move all night. Finally in the 33rd an ineffective Martin Jorgensen actually gets a shot off at Howard. That raises the grand total of shots to one.
Fiorentina look a little better in the last few minutes of the half, but Everton gives me a hell of a scare when a goal they “score” is ruled offside. Two of my fingers are bleeding from where I bit the fingernails off. Gross, I know.
More of the same. Pazzini comes on, thank the Lord. Dainelli continues to look great. Fiorentina as a whole continues to look skittish, and at times it almost appears they are playing with ten men. The Viola go through a very bad patch around the 60th minute, Yakubu almost scores, and then Arteta bombs in a long shot from thirty yards out. Everton are up 2-0.
After that, it is all-out attacking by Everton. Frey saves a shot off a corner in the 69th and another in the 70th. He is the MAN tonight. In the 76th Howard saves the best Fiorentina shot of the night off Pazzini’s head. In the 80th Everton have their 15th or 16th corner, followed by Jorgenson launching one into the tenth row. In the 87th Yakubu gets a much-deserved yellow for diving (Fiorentina got five or six cautions of their own) and we go to extra time. And I was having a stroke.
1st Extra Time
Pazzini is really growing up: he was butchered by an Everton defender just outside the box in the 4th minute, but stayed up and got off a weak shot. I hope Andy Johnson was taking notes. Things otherwise are finally slowing down, but Gamberini still has to save the Viola’s skins in the 11th. I was drinking strait scotch at this point.
2nd Extra Time
Everton is eating Fiorentina alive on set-pieces. Santana comes on in the 20th and stinks up the joint. Both teams settle down to wait for penalties after that, but Pazzini still gets off a very dangerous shot that goes just wide in the 28th. Now THAT would have been the goal of the year.
Pretty straightforward here: Pazzini, Montolivo, Osvaldo and Santana all make theirs. Cool as cucumbers, them. Yakubu knocks his off the post and Frey magnificently saves Phil Jagielka’s. Fiorentina advance. I sigh a quiet sigh of relief, and go and take some Tylenol.
Fiorentina did not play well today. The team is built to attack, not defend, and when they get in the defensive mindset they do not play well. Still, they did exactly what they had to do and advanced. And for every Everton fan who wants to tell you that the blues could have one by “four or five” today, please remember to remind them that Fiorentina could have done the same last week. Penalties, whether you like ‘em or not, are part of the game, and Fiorentina played that part of the game better today.
Also, the exception to that “didn’t play well” statement was Frey, who had a great game. Made four or five fantastic saves before he even got to penalties. What can I say? I’ll take Sebastien Frey over any keeper in the world. He’s the reason we’re going to the quarters.
All Fiorentina fans are elated today, understandably. But we are also owed thanks by every fan of Italian football. With four English teams in the quarters of the CL, I was starting to hear a bit too much of how great and world-beating the Premier league is. Nice job by my boys for sending at least one English club packing. (Kudos also to PSV for sending Spurs packing.)
They announce the draws for the Quarters and Semi-finals of the UEFA cup on Friday. I will be posting soon after to discuss. In the meantime, we still have a critical Series A match this weekend, but tonight should be for celebrating.
And One Last Thing…