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Viola Advance to Knockout Stages of Champions League

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Wayyyyyyyy back in September, after Fiorentina lost its first Champions League group mach (to Lyon) I posted this, which can still be found in the archives:

Finally: Do I think we’re done in the CL? Probably. It’s tough to see us advancing, but of course it can still be done. We need to beat Lyon in Florence, take care of business vs. the underdogs, and get something from Liverpool. If we do that, we can still be okay. But make no mistake: we have an uphill battle on our hands.

I’m not posting this now because I think I’m prescient, or to mock my obvious doubtfulness. First of all, we all knew what HAD to be done, and most of us were probably pretty concerned about our ability to do it. I am instead posting it because tonight I think we as fans can all share a sense of “mission accomplished,” the idea that our team set a very difficult task before it, and achieved that task. Think about it. Put yourself in that position after matchday one. If I had told you that by matchday five we would not only be leading the group, but would also have a good chance to win it, what would you think? I imagine what little is left of my credibility would have vanished.

And yet here we are. Tonight everyone in the football world seems to be talking about us, and it is nice. We have made everyone forget about Henry’s handball for five minutes. Tonight’s win has allowed the team to take another step towards once again becoming a “big” club in Europe, and has further cemented the Great Man’s status as an equally great manager. Tonight, like so many other nights, I wish I was in beautiful Florence once again.

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Over the coming days you’re going to hear a lot about matchday six, the game in Liverpool, and winning the group. I do think it is a very winnable match. We have everything to play for, and Liverpool, well, doesn’t. I’m pretty sure they’re also not dying to do Lyon any favors. But, while I would like to see us win the group (and get in the “1-seed” group) I’m not going to spend a ton of time worrying about it. The way I see it, we’re now in the last sixteen of the Champions League. We’re going to be playing someone good. Yeah, if we can avoid Barca and Manchester United, fine. But every team at this stage can play. And remember this, which I said after the first Liverpool match: If we play like we did in the first half of that game for 90 minutes, we can beat anybody. ANYBODY. You name the team. Its just a question of putting it together for a full game against a quality opponent. Easy? Of course not. But it is possible. We saw it for 45 minutes vs. Liverpool.

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Scattered thoughts from the match itself:

• If you had told me back in September that while winning our group we would beat Lyon without our two best creative players (Mutu and My Precious) and our best defender (Gamberini) I would have REALLY, REALY thought you were nuts.

• I know in every recap I always write some variation of “Jesus, Frey was a BEAST today,” but Christ, Frey was an Animal out there tonight. If we win the Champions league they should probably give him two medals. Just because.

• I was just crazy about the way De Silvestri played today. I thought he ran like a dog, was a real threat on the wings, and played smart on defense. I want to see more of him after tonight.

• Kroldrup looks like a counter man working the overnight shift of a gas station with that ridiculous wispy mustache of his, but he and the Captain kept ‘em out tonight, so he gets mentioned in the recaps. Now get back to pouring slurpies.

• If Santana’s shot off the woodwork had gone in, it would have been one of the five prettiest Viola goals I had ever seen.

• Were the British announcers actually wearing Liverpool shirts as they called the match, or did they just go with the scarves?

• I’ve been tough on Marchionni in these pages, and he still makes some mind-numbing mental errors, but nicely done tonight.

• And Vargas. Remember when everyone wanted to give him that ‘Trashcan of the Year’ award they give to the biggest bust in Italian football last year? That keeps getting further and further away in our memories.

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That’s all I got for now. It’s late. Sorry about the double preview posts earlier. I just wanted to throw a quick placeholder up, but I didn’t know Timmy was writing his (as usual, excellent) preview post at the same time.

Enjoy tonight, everybody. I doesn’t get much better than this. And to all you Americans reading this, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving this Thursday. I hope you all get to spend it with family. We’ll see you on the weekend, where we have yet another big game coming up.

Forza Viola!