Dynamo Kyiv 1 - FIORENTINA 1
Finally, this was a recognizable Fiorentina. Not only for the dominance in the first half, but also for the tenacity displayed by Vincenzo Montella's team when their luck seemed to run out. And the Viola's reward is a favorable score draw earned in Ukraine against Dynamo Kyiv, with a return leg of the Europa League quarterfinal in Florence next week.
The purple-clad visitors held the ball and - more notably - created space for themselves very well in the opening half hour, appearing to have shrugged off the torpor that possessed them in the past two games. The midfield was finally working again, with a reassuringly good Borja Valero taking charge with his typically simple link up play. Fiorentina were most threatening through the lively Mohammed Salah, who won possession high up the field often, and created a great early Viola chance on the break, squaring to Joaquin, whose shot was blocked. It was Salah again who teed up Mario Gomez in the box a few minutes later, only for the big German to miscue and then fire a hard-earned second chance into the side netting. Joaquin's industry nearly produced a chance soon after, but the best chance of the half fell to Salah. Borja combined with Gomez on the edge of the box, and the resulting pass found the Egyptian in all kinds of space, only for him to smack his effort directly at the keeper.
Dynamo Kyiv mainly threatened through combination play in wide areas, which found some success both because it is their strongest area of the pitch and because neither Nenad Tomovic nor Marcos Alonso are particularly quick. After Matias Fernandez hit an effort just wide of the far post, Dynamo strung together a relatively innocuous foray down the right, but Jeremain Lens found enough space to release a shot that took a massive deflection off of Tomovic and looped into the net. While the home side hadn't been awful, this was far from a deserved advantage.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>what on earth is this deflection <a href="http://t.co/7fPSxFqWQE">http://t.co/7fPSxFqWQE</a> <a href="https://t.co/QDz13DjOx7">https://t.co/QDz13DjOx7</a></p>— SB Nation Soccer (@SBNationSoccer) <a href="https://twitter.com/SBNationSoccer/status/588797571050573824">April 16, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Fiorentina went to the locker room frustrated, having outshot their opponents 13-4 and very much running the game, but the feeling would continue. In the second half the Ukrainians set their line of confrontation much deeper, with their wide men especially playing more in defense than midfield. Dynamo also focused their energy on playing on the counterattack when the opportunity arose, and first Savic, then Gonzalo were called upon to make good blocks in their own penalty area. On top of all that, the home team continued to ramp up the physical aspect of the game with the blessing of a very lenient Polish referee. Borja Valero was hacked extensively at the end of the first half, and early into the second both Salah and Milan Badelj were grabbed and kicked.
Montella tried to match the changing game by introducing Juan Manuel Vargas for Joaquin on 67 minutes, but the Peruvian never got into the game. It was Borja who, for the second game running, nearly surprised himself with a goal, his fine near post header smacking the bar shortly after the first substitution. The Viola continued to huff and puff without finding clear cut opportunities, occasionally dipping down into the state of lethargy that has plagued them in their last two matches, until substitute Khouma Babacar made the most of his only sight of goal. Halfway through the second of three additional minutes, the Fiorentina youth product attacked a Matias Fernandez cross, saw the ball pop up, and then reacted quickest to the high ball, volleying it over his own shoulder into the back post to notch one of the most important goals of the season so far.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>What we should do to Baba <a href="http://t.co/kiggL902Fb">pic.twitter.com/kiggL902Fb</a></p>— Viola Nation (@Viola_Nation) <a href="https://twitter.com/Viola_Nation/status/588808173760475136">April 16, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
The stoppage time equalizer means that Fiorentina return to Florence to face Dynamo Kyiv next Thursday needing a win or a scoreless draw to advance on aggregate, making the potential path to the semifinals much simpler for the Viola. Hopefully Montella and company will have learned the lessons of the past two cup eliminations to Juventus regarding relaxing at home. Surely if the team plays like it did in the first half, but in front of the home fans, the Fiorentina faithful may very well have the treat of a European semifinal on their hands.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>FT Dynamo 1 FIORENTINA 1 <a href="http://t.co/kz7nXSaXQq">pic.twitter.com/kz7nXSaXQq</a></p>— Viola Nation (@Viola_Nation) <a href="https://twitter.com/Viola_Nation/status/588808384377401345">April 16, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Neto 6 Tomo 5 Gonzalo 6 Savić 6.5 Alonso 5.5 Mati 6.5 Badelj 6 Borja 7 Salah 6.5 Gomez 5 Joaquín 6 Montella 6 Baba </p>— Viola Nation (@Viola_Nation) <a href="https://twitter.com/Viola_Nation/status/588811302224715776">April 16, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>