Today in front of tens of fans at the Artemio Franchi in Florence, Fiorentina lost the second leg of their tie with Lazio and thus were eliminated from the Italian Cup. The American announcers calling the game on the station I was watching openly questioned how much Fiorentina wanted the match; certainly by resting Mutu, Coach Cesare Prandelli made it clear that success in the league, and not the cup, was his top priority. Still, the team played an attacking game and made attacking substitutions. Lazio was simply the better team today.
Prandelli started the game with a strong back four and Montolivo in the midfield, but he was clearly resting his best strikers by putting Bobo and Osvaldo up front. The first ten minutes or so were slow going, but things heated up after a dangerous free kick by Montolivo in the 12th minute. A few moments later the same player broke away and was one-on-one with the keeper, but his shot was saved. Finally in the 17th Bobo Vieri chipped a nice ball into the box that Franco Semioli controlled well and slotted through to make the game 1-0. At this point, the aggregate score was 2-2, with the Viola holding the tie-breaking away goal.
Then it all kind of fell apart. After both clubs nearly exchanged own-goals (the defenses of both clubs were shaky all day) Lazio’s Aleksandar Kolarov placed a beautiful free kick in the back of the net following a very dubious foul outside the box. Frey made a great save before the half, but now that Lazio had the away goal, they were going to be tough to beat.
There was much less action in the second half as Lazio pulled away. Prandelli put Pazzini in the game in the 51st to get some more offensive action (he ended up doing very little) but it was Tommaso Rocchi who got on the scoreboard for the visitors after being set up nicely by teammate Goran Pandev. Lazio were now up 4-2 on aggregate, and Fiorentina would have to have scored 3 in the last half hour to win with the away-goal tiebreaker. They made a game of it (Donadel smacked one off the post in the 77th) but it was not to be. Tomas Ujfalusi picked up an injury towards the end of the game (still not sure how serious), Frey continued to work hard until the final whistle, but the game ended 2-1, with Lazio advancing to play Inter and Fiorentina eliminated.
Ultimately, we’re just not sure how big a blow all this is for Prandelli and Fiorentina. Clearly they wanted to win this game, but they would not do so at the expense of the league. With the Italian cup out of the way they can focus full attention on Series A and the UEFA cup.
What was more worrisome for me was how toothless the team looked, for long stretches, without Adrian Mutu. I like to think the Viola are a well-rounded offensive team, but if Mutu goes down for an extended period….
Anyway, congratulations to Lazio. This weekend we will focus our attention on AC Milan in anticipation of their big visit to the Artemio Franchi.