FIORENTINA 2 - MILAN 1
On a rain drenched night in Florence, AC Milan were the opponents for Vincenzo Montella's rotated and injury ravaged Fiorentina. The question on everybody's lips was, after a hammering against Lazio in their last league outing and half an eye on Thursday's Europa League tie with Roma, could Fiorentina overcome a Milan side desperate for victory?
Milan certainly had the better of the play in the opening 30 minutes, Norberto Neto got his body in the way of a Keisuke Honda shot early on and Aleandro Rosi denying Jérémy Ménez a good opportunity with some sound defensive work in the box. On the half hour the tides changed, and it was Fiorentina who came agonisingly close to taking the lead. Manuel Pasqual had been on the receiving end of a scything tackle by Marco van Ginkel on the left hand side, close to the byline. Josip Ilicic played in an inch perfect ball from the resulting free kick onto the head of Jose María Basanta, who powered the ball onto the underside of the crossbar. This sparked Fiorentina into life. Ilicic was working hard and looked lively, Borja Valero was all over the pitch and Pasqual looked much more comfortable playing on the left wing than he had done at left back against Lazio. Just before half time, a series of good moves starting with Alberto Gilardino going close wih a header and culminating with a smart volley from Borja made la viola look more likely to take the lead in the second half than i rossoneri.
Montella made a double substitution at half time, bringing on Milan Badelj and Joaquín for Alberto Aquilani and Micah Richards. Chances fell to both substitutes early in the second half, but Diego Lopez was equal to them both. Despite Fiorentina's early pressure, it was Milan who made the breakthrough. On 56 minutes Mattia Destro was quick to react to Giacomo Bonaventura's mishit shot. The initial shot was going way off target but Destro guided it back towards goal, giving Neto no chance. At 1-0, Milan looked happy to park the bus and managed to contain Fiorentina until full time.
On 68 minutes Joaquín took the game by the scruff of the neck, with what turned out to be the beginning of a sublime twenty minutes for the Spanish winger. He first attempted a delicate chip over Lopez that went just over the bar. He then played a beautiful cross into the box, Philippe Mexès was able to clear just a fraction before Gilardino could get to the ball. The third time was the charm from Joaquín, whose inch perfect cross was met by the head of Gonazalo Rodriguez; his thumping header brought Fiorentina deservedly level. The momentum and belief had certainly swung Fiorentina's way. With just a minute of normal time remaining, Joaquín turned goalscorer, with Pasqual providing the cross from the left hand side for the Spaniard, who made no mistake heading home to send the tifosi viola into delirium.
On paper, it may have looked like a smash and grab victory, but Fiorentina fully deserved the three points. Let's hope Montella can channel some of the positive energy off the back of tonight's result into Thursday night's crucial Europa League second leg in Rome. The viola are now just one point behind Napoli after they lost to Hellas Verona on Sunday and four behind Lazio in 3rd. Add in the first leg Coppa Italia advantage over Juventus, and the battle on all fronts is really on! Forza Viola!