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Fiorentina 1-0 Belenenses: Match report

Fiorentina defeats Belenenses with a mixture of first and second team selections to move on from the Europa League Group stage with a 2nd place finish.

I'm not sure it can get more Portuguese than this picture.
I'm not sure it can get more Portuguese than this picture.
Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Paulo Sousa continued his Europa League approach of giving opportunities to second string players such as Luigi Sepe, Nenard Tomovic, Joan Verdu, and the still recoving Gilberto and Giuseppe Rossi, alongside more established core players, most notably starting the Borja Valero and Milan Badelj core. This strategy paid off, as Fiorentina comfortably controlled the match, even if they were let down by finishing.

First half highlights included nice runs by Gilberto, who remains somewhat of a mystery man after missing time with injuries. His pace and trickery was often too much for the Portuguese opposition, and while he won't be given as much space in Serie A, he made a strong argument for more time. Borja and Badelj were as reliable as ever, and Verdu was decent and grew into the game, saving most of his contributions for the second half. Marcos Alonso (playing center back, no less) and Davide Astori also had some good chances, although by the end of the first half there was only 1 shot on goal, despite dominating possession and total shot count. Rossi remains unable to consistently impact on the match, however much like Verdu, he improved as the match went on and became more of a threat in the second half.

The best chances in the first half came from Khouma Babacar, who hit the crossbar on a header after a cross, and from a Rossi moment of brilliance just before half time, although he couldn't keep his shot on target after cutting through to the edge of the box.

The second half almost started with a disaster, as Astori came close to scoring a horrendous own goal only to be bailed out by Sepe, who had an excellent game all things considered. After that, Sousa introduced Federico Bernardeschi and Matias Vecino for Gilberto and Borja respectively, which only increased the Fiorentina domination.

Soon after, Babacar, who had the best chances all game, finished a combination play by Manuel Pasqual (snubbed for the armband in favor of Borja) and Verdu, to score the only goal of the game. Belenenses appealed for an offsides as Babacar tricked their defense in his finish.

Mario Suarez was subbed in 79 minutes in to help kill off the match. Fiorentina continued to dominate possession but seemed content with the 1-0 win, as it was enough to move on in second place behind Basel. So far Fiorentina's Europa League campaign has been ugly but effective enough, which is probably the best way to take this tournament until the later rounds.

The team gets a brief rest before Sunday's anticipated showdown with arch-rivals Juventus, who have been slowly inching up the Serie A table.