I have to admit that it’s been a rather grim day in my otherwise happy household. My (American) football team, the New England Patriots, (I live about ten minutes from their home stadium) just lost the Super Bowl. If that wasn’t bad enough, my favorite (world) football team, Fiorentina, lost a heartbreaker at home to AC Milan in spite of dominating long stretches of play. To paraphrase a great football writer: “Fiorentina kept knocking on the door, but they could never break it down.” And thus on a day when at least a draw was critical to keep their Champions League hopes alive, the Viola witnessed Milan take all three points and climb within four of Fiorentina’s current fourth place. On top of all that, Milan still has a game in hand.
Fiorentina start with close to its strongest possible squad; Mutu, Santana and Pazzini are up front, with Jorgenson, Montolivo and Kuzmanovic supporting from midfield and Ujfalusi, Koldrup, Pasqual and Gamberini in front of Frey. Only Liverani is an obvious absence, still suffering from injury. Milan starts with a more conservative lineup, featuring Gilardino as the lone striker.
Fiorentina control the game from the very early going. Pazzini has a shot on goal within the first minute of play. Disaster is averted when Pasqual almost has a horrifying own-goal, but the Viola recovers well, with a nice snap-header by Mutu well saved by Kalac in the 11th; Kalac makes another beauty in the 15th and may be Milan’s player of the game.
Throughout the first half I thought Santana did a nice job of pushing the ball forward, while Montolivo was nearly invisible. The viola has more good chances in the 32nd (on a free kick) and the 34th. When Gilardino fluffs the best chance of the game in the 37th, I began to hope it might be our day. But the boys in purple simply could not score, despite dominating for long stretches and having well more than 60% of possession. Frey makes a great save on Kaka to end the half on an optimistic note.
The back half of the game witnesses more of the same; Mutu is butchered by Nesta in the 49th, a foul that easily could have easily merited a red, but Fiorentina do nothing with the free kick. By the 60th, when Ujfalusi bombs a shot into the 12th row, the realization sets in that the club would not score today.
By the 65th, it was obvious that Kaka had become fully awake and was the most dangerous man on the pitch. His marauding runs were scaring the life out of me. I was convinced someone would deal him a ticky-tack foul in the box and the penalty shot would be the decider. But Milan puts the Duck on the pitch in the 66th, and his creativity, combined with Kaka’s, finally lead to the inevitable Milan goal in the 77th, when Pato controls a nice pass into the box and puts it in the net despite the efforts of Frey and the defenders that had surrounded him. 1-0 Milan, the only goal of the game. Gobbi and Bobo come on too late to make any difference, and Kalac makes one more fine save of a Mutu header in injury time to preserve the three points. Fiorentina may have played the better game today, but Milan knew how to put the ball in the net. So they get the win.
An incredibly nerve-wracking and frustrating game for the Viola fan. In spite of dominating for long stretches, the team rarely looked a threat to actually score. The front line trio of Mutu, Pazzini, and Santana spent as much time arguing about missed opportunities and who-should-have-passed-to-who as they did shooting. Montolivo was invisible and Kuzmanovic was very disappointing after some fine performances earlier in the year. I can’t wait to get Liverani back. Even Prandelli (probably my favorite person in the organization) had an off day. I love the fact that he often sends his subs in early, but he waited far too long today to bring on more attackers when they were so sorely and obviously needed. Bobo didn’t do much when he got out there, but I would have liked to have seen him in the 60th minute instead of the 80th.
Where do we stand?
Fiorentina will spend another week in the fourth champions league place, but their lead is down to four over Milan, and with their game-in-hand the Rosseneri could easily overtake them within ten days. Fiorentina has played well as of late before today, but they now need to begin ruthlessly earning points as they come into the home stretch. Milan and their new boy Pato (who clearly outshone Gila today) will be equally ruthless as they try to grab Fiorentina’s spot.
Finally, am I killing Fiorentina?
I started writing for The Offside about two weeks ago and have enjoyed every minute of it. However, during that time, I have watched and recapped three games for the website: both legs of the Lazio cup-tie and this match. Curiously, Fiorentina have lost all three. If the team keeps losing matches that I recap, I can guarantee I will have the shortest tenure of any offside writer ever. I don’t want to see the Viola relegated. I don’t like the Offside that much.