Yesterday in Bucharest the Viola defeated Steaua 1-0 in their final Champions League match of the season, thus assuring that they finished third in their group and qualified for the final 32 knockout stage of the UEFA Cup. While the ultimate results were a disappointment to those of us who thought the Viola could have progressed to the knockout stages of the CL, (and if things broke just a BIT differently, they could have) we all remember how much fun the UEFA Cup run was last year, and I’m sure we can all look back positively at the experience accrued by this still young team.
Here are a few thoughts on Fiorentina in Europe this year, both looking back and looking forward…
• Good game yesterday by the boys. Obviously it was our first and only win in the Champions League, but it was a nice win. It was also a must-win. Going home without the consolation prize of the UEFA Cup would have been a bummer. But the boys played well in a hostile environment where they other team most certainly weren’t above playing very, very dirty. I was surprised Steaua only had one man sent off. But they Romanians were less and less of a threat as the match went on, and our whole team put on a collectively solid (if perhaps unspectacular) performance in a difficult atmosphere. Kudos to the space-alien Alberto Gilardino who continues his unnerving ability to score virtually at will. Could he have 20 goals (in all competitions) by Christmas? (He has 15 now). Could he end up with 35 by the end of the season? Why not? Aim high.
• We’ve been over this ground before, but if we had played with a little more steel, and if things had broken just a bit more our way a few times, the results could have been very different. IF we had held onto that 2-0 lead in Lyon. IF we had defeated Steaua or Bayern at home instead of accepting those draws. IF our defense had played a little better, if we had finished a little more strongly. Of course I accept that things didn’t break our way, and that we do not deserve to progress. It would be wrong, however, to think that we’re miles and miles away from our goal.
• On that note, virtually everyone on the team thinks this experience has been great for the club, and will help them in the UEFA Cup, in the league, and hopefully next year in the Champions League. I would agree, of course, but if we qualify for the Champions League next season (another big IF) that experience will only count if we hang onto the experienced guys, like Mutu, Bassy, Monto, etc.
• In the meantime, we can look forward to UEFA Cup action. The draw for the round of 32 seems to take place on December 19. (I know the draw for the CL does, the UEFA Cup draw is either later the same day or on the 20th). There are still lots and lots of good teams in that competition, but we are a very good team as well. I think we have a shot at the cup. We’ll obviously talk more about it in coming weeks, but I for one am looking forward to more European Adventures.
I’ll be back, hopefully soon, with a preview of this weekend’s action. Hope you are all well, and Forza Viola!