Before I was stirring on the American East Coast this morning, and only hours after narrowly scraping advancement into the Europa League group stages thanks to away goals, the wheels of UEFA were turning in far off Europe, engineering Fiorentina's destiny. If I am dramatic, it is perhaps because the names out of the proverbial hat for Montella's side are in far flung locales, and have names worthy of a Tolkien novel. As most of you likely know by now, we were among the teams in "Pot One" of the draw, and were the first team placed in Group E. We were then joined by, FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (UKR), FC Paços de Ferreira (POR), CS Pandurii Târgu Jiu (ROU). What helps further the Tolkien metaphor? The various long trips to various Mordors that we must make...
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>As observed by fan <a href="https://twitter.com/Ghebbe">@Ghebbe</a>, road distances from Florence: Târgu Jiu (Panduri) = 1500 km Dnipropetrovsk = 2500 km Paços de Ferreira = 1600 km</p>— Viola Nation (@Viola_Nation) <a href="https://twitter.com/Viola_Nation/statuses/373430067436998656">August 30, 2013</a></blockquote>
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But enough with distances, let's start with some initial thoughts on the teams themselves. Dnipro is certainly the most intimidating side on paper, having finished 3rd in an increasingly competitive Ukrainian league and beaten Napoli 3-1 at home last season. Paços managed a surprise third place in Portugal and disputed a Champions League qualifying tie against Zenit St. Petersburg, so they are unlikely to be pushovers, and we can expect the same full field press that Sporting used in our friendly in Lisbon. Romanian club Pandurii seems the weakest team in the group, having only advanced to the first division of Romania in 2006, and boasting a modest stadium housing less than 10,000 spectators. Regardless of club size, however, all three games away from home will be very difficult, and it is imperative that Fiorentina are able to take care of business at home (unlike they did yesterday, for example... But I'll leave more detailed commentary on that and the immediate state of the team for the match preview of Sunday's game against Genoa). Below is the full Europa League calendar for the group matches, get it in your calendars! Avanti viola!
Group Stages Calendar*:
September 19th: Fiorentina – Paços de Ferreira 7:00 pm
October 3rd: Dnipro – Fiorentina 9:00 pm
October 24th: Fiorentina – Pandurii 9:00 pm
November 7th: Pandurii – Fiorentina 7:00 pm
November 28th: Pacos De Ferreira – Fiorentina 9:00 pm
December 12th: Fiorentina – Dnipro 7:00 pm
*all times Florence local time.