Fiorentina taking on Udinese in the Coppa makes me a little nostalgic during this difficult period for the club. This was the 2013/14 season with Vincenzo Montella (version 1) in charge.
Fiorentina had sold Stevan Jovetić and Adem Ljajić but had brought in the likes of Joaquín, Massimo Ambrosini, Josip Iličić, but the big news was the arrival of German striker Mario Gómez. Unfortunately Mario would miss most of the season through injury, only making 9 appearances in Serie A.
With Fiorentina hoping to have one of the strongest forward lines in Italy with Gómez linking up with Giuseppe Rossi, Pepito too would miss out part of the season with more injury problems for the American. Despite making only 21 appearances in the league, he was still our top scorer, with 16 goals, 3 of those coming in the famous 4-2 win over Juventus.
I was back living in Ireland at this stage, but still making trips to Florence whenever possible. On this occasion, after a slight change to my itinerary, I managed to take in two games in four days. When the date was announced for the Coppa Italia semi-final second leg with Udinese, I realised it was the day I was due to fly home, but that was never really going to happen.
Arriving on Saturday 8th February, in time to make it to the Franchi for the Atalanta game, a 2-0 win, Iličić getting an early goal and then I got to see Rafał Wolski’s only goal in a Fiorentina jersey when he made the result safe four minutes from time. Fiorentina were in fourth place in Serie A at the time, where they would remain until the end of the season. This would mean a place in the Europa League group stage for the following season.
Tuesday night soon came around, Udinese had won the 1st leg 2-1 just a week before this. Juan Manuel Vargas got an important away goal, in between strikes from Antonio Di Natale and Luis Muriel. Knowing a 1-0 win would be enough to take us to the final, we were quietly confident of turning this tie around at the Franchi. This despite lacking the fire power of Pepito Rossi, and also Mario Gomez, though he did make the subs bench for this game after five months out because of that injury.
On a cold wet February night, and with the Curva Ferrovia closed (as it had been for all the Coppa games), there were still almost 30,000 of us there to get behind the team. We desperately wanted them to get to their first final since the Della Valle had taken over.
Fiorentina would also be without Borja Valero after he had received another yellow card in the first leg at Udine, protesting too much over a penalty not awarded after a handball by Maurizio Domizzi. It would be Domizzi however who would find himself in trouble with the referee in this game.
Andrea and Diego Della Valle were of course present that night, alongside Florence mayor Matteo Renzi on this big night for the club. As the subs made their way to the bench before the game, Mario Gomez was given a warm welcome by the crowd, waving to the Fiesole as he emerged from the tunnel.
Knowing that we needed to score, that break through came early, with just 14 minutes on the clock. When Joaquín from almost the end line headed the ball back, Manuel Pasqual was there to meet it with a left foot volley which left Simone Scuffet with no chance in the Udinese goal. The captain dove in to celebrate with the fans in the parterre.
That goal, which could mean qualification for the final, didn’t seem to relax the Fiorentina side, instead it was Udinese who had the better of the remainder of the first half. Antonio Di Natale hit the post with a header, and Neto saved a couple of good chances from Gabriel Silva and Domizzi. The Brazilian keeper had yet to really convince everyone since his arrival, but on this night, when it really mattered, he became the hero.
Fiorentina came out better in the second half, Scuffet needing to make a save from Joaquin. They were still under pressure, but David Pizarro was able to launch some counter attacks to let Udinese know they could always get that all important second goal. And that goal came on the hour mark, from the ex-Udinese player Juan Cuadrado. Set free by a beautiful cross field pass from Pizarro, he rifled a shot between Gabriel Silva and Domizzi, hitting the bottom of the crossbar on its way to the net.
Even at 2-0 it was hard to relax, knowing that just one goal from Udinese would push this tie into extra-time. When 6 minutes of injury time were announced, it was edge of the seat stuff, for anyone still sitting down. First Cuadrado managed to get himself booked, and although he didn’t know it at the time, this meant that he would miss out on the final should Fiorentina hold on.
With almost 4 minutes of injury time played, a dangerous Udinese attack was snuffed out by Pasqual who deflected the ball behind, but when a corner wasn’t given the Udinese players surrounded the referee. It looked like he had instead rightly given an offside decision even though the linesman hadn’t raised his flag. Luis Muriel who had come on as a sub got himself booked for protesting and Domizzi was lucky not to get a second yellow as he continued to harass the referee.
There was still time for even more drama, and when Muriel found himself in the box, his shot was somehow clawed away by Neto who was well off his line, and when the ball then reached Nicolas Lopez, his weak header could still have found the net had Neto not managed in the meantime to get back in position after the first save. The stadium erupted, the players on the bench, lead by Mario Gomez, applauding their goalkeeper.
This looked to have been Udinese’s last chance, until a long ball into the box was claimed by the seemingly unbeatable Neto. When he fell to the ground with the ball, he may have taken a knock from an Udinese player, or he may simply have wanted to waste those last few seconds. Domizzi certainly though the latter, and made his feelings known to the referee, this time his protests did lead to a red card. The final act of the match was Neto taking his time with the final kick-out and finally, after 97 nail biting minutes, the referee’s whistle blew and the stadium celebrated a famous victory.
Neto was rightly mobbed by his team-mates, and even Vincenzo Montella raised a smile having sat impassively on the bench for most of the game. Alberto Aquilani launched a ball into the crowd, although it did take him a second attempt to succeed, and Pizarro left the field making a gesture that was probably meant to show that this was a team with the right attributes.
It was an amazing night to be at the Stadio Franchi, and it’s one of those memories which makes me look at the team today and wonder what exactly is going on, where is their fire, their heart, their will to fight for our club. The final in Rome turned out to be an anti-climax, losing to Napoli in a game overshadowed by trouble before the game.
That semi-final in Florence though, is still one of the many great memories to have of the Fiorentina from that period. Here’s hoping Cesare Prandelli can get through to this current squad of players and make them realize just what it means to play for this club.