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Fiorentina’s away days in the Coppa Italia with Napoli

Our clashes in Naples in the cup go back to the Seventies

Napoli v Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

It’s Coppa Italia time, a competition which can sometimes be hard to get excited about. That’s down to the organisers, and it’s no surprise that since the Lega Serie A took over the running of the competition from the FIGC in 2010 it’s become even more of a closed shop for the top clubs. It’s still a cup we would like to win, considering that it’s now over 20 years since we last lifted a trophy, our Coppa Italia win in 2001. The game against Napoli also takes on more importance after our heavy defeat at Torino, as we wait to see how our players bounce back.

Our away games in the Coppa Italia at the Stadio San Paolo (now the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona) haven’t brought much success. In nine matches Fiorentina has only managed one win away to Napoli, our record also includes four defeats and four drawn games.

The last Coppa meeting between the two sides happened five years ago, in the 2016/17 edition. The clubs met in Naples at the quarter-final stage in January 2017, and the only player who took part that day in the current Fiorentina squad scored the only goal of the game. Unfortunately, that player is José María Callejón, who was a Napoli player at the time. In a season where he scored a total of 17 goals, he grabbed the winner with 20 minutes left in the game.

Right at the end there was time for two players to be sent off, in separate incidents. The first saw a second yellow card for Elseid Hysaj after a foul on Matias Vecino, followed shortly afterwards by a straight red for Maxi Olivera. Paulo Sousa’s side that day included Federico Chiesa, Federico Bernardeschi, Davide Astori, Nikola Kalinić and Milan Badelj. Maurizio Sarri watched this one from the stands, serving a suspension, and included in his line up were Piotr Zieliński, Lorenzo Insigne and Marek Hamšík.

This had been the first time the teams had played a Coppa Italia game in Naples since 1990. In the 1990/91 competition, they were drawn together in the last sixteen, and the first leg at the San Paolo was played on November 14th. This was a Napoli team that had just won the Scudetto the previous season, but it was also going through a period of problems with Diego Maradona. It would turn out to be his final campaign with the club, with his suspension later that season after failing an anti-doping test. For now, he was missing training sessions, travelling alone to away games in Europe, and was left out of the squad for this tie.

It was still a Napoli side that included Ciro Ferrara, Gianfranco Zola, Massimo Mauro, and Fiorentina would also be up against their former keeper, Giovanni Galli. The Fiorentina line-up included Gianmatteo Mareggini in goal, Celeste Pin, Diego Fuser, Dunga and Marco Nappi. Even without Maradona, and Careca, Napoli looked comfortable at 2-0 halfway through the second half. Those goals came from Andrea Silenzi and Giuseppe Incoccati. Four minutes after the second goal, Fiorentina found a way back into the tie when Luboš Kubík converted a penalty. In the last minute, they could have levelled the game, but Galli made a great save from a Fuser shot. The return leg in Florence a week later ended scoreless, and Fiorentina were out of the competition.

In the 1984/85 season, the sides were drawn together in the initial group stage. With six teams in the group, Fiorentina faced two home games and three away, and the last tie of the group saw Fiorentina travel to face Napoli on September 9th. The game was played on a Sunday, as the league campaign only started a week later. Both sides had already qualified for the knockout stages, and they were tied at the top of the group, with the same points, and the exact same number of goals scored, and goals conceded. For a cup game with little to play for, there were 85,000 fans at the San Paolo that afternoon.

The large crowd may have had something to do with Napoli’s new arrival, Diego Armando Maradona. They had also signed another Argentinian Daniel Bertoni, who had been with Fiorentina the previous four seasons. Fiorentina had their own South American star in their side, the recent signing, Sócrates, with Giancarlo Antognoni out for the season through injury. Also in Giancarlo De Sisti’s Fiorentina team that day were Claudio Gentile, Daniel Passarella, Galli, and Eraldo Pecci.

It was all Napoli in the opening half, with Galli needing to make several saves, mostly from Bertoni. The home side did find the net, but it was ruled out for offside. Ten minutes after the break, and it was Fiorentina who managed to break the deadlock. Paolo Monelli scored a goal that Maradona would be proud of, receiving the ball in the box with his back to goal, after two touches to control it, he swung around with a bicycle kick to find the net.

Just over ten minutes later, and it was the ex-Viola, Bertoni, who levelled the game. A free kick into the box was headed on by Salvatore Bagni for the Argentine to poke home. Shortly afterwards, Maradona almost gave Napoli the lead, but his free kick came back off the crossbar. The tie finished 1-1, and so the sides finished exactly level at the top of the group. After the game, Maradona’s first against a Serie A side in the Napoli shirt, he was pleased with how he was marked during the match, fairly and without any nasty fouls, describing the Fiorentina defender, Renzo Contratto, as an excellent player.

Napoli went out to Milan in the next round, while Fiorentina made it to the semi-finals before defeat to Sampdoria. By the time the two sides next met in the Coppa Italia, in the 1987/88 season, Maradona had helped Napoli to their first ever Scudetto. Not only had they won the league title of 1986/87, but they also lifted the Coppa Italia.

The 87/88 edition of the Coppa saw Napoli and Fiorentina again drawn together in the group stage. The other four teams in Group 5, were Livorno, Udinese, Padova and Modena, and once again all games would be played before the league started. For this season’s competition, the organisers decided on some experimental changes to try to make it more entertaining and attract bigger crowds.

They decided to award three points for a victory in an attempt to cut down on the amount of drawn games. Although three points for a win had already been brought into the English league in 1981, Serie A would not implement the same until 1994. This wasn’t the only change, if a group game did end in a draw, the tie would go to a penalty shoot-out, without any extra-time, and the winners would claim two points. The losers of the shoot-out would still get one point.

Yet again, Napoli and Fiorentina met at the San Paolo on the last day of the group, with both sides already qualified, and level on 12 points having won all four of their games. On the same evening as 50,000 fans watched the game in Naples, there was an even bigger crowd at Fiorentina’s stadium. Instead of Maradona, they would be watching Madonna, on the last date of her Who’s That Girl tour.

After just five minutes, Giovanni Francini had put Napoli ahead, with the help of a howler from Marco Landucci in the Fiorentina goal. Bagni played a pass for Francini into the box but hit it too long and Landucci just needed to scoop the ball up, instead it went through his legs and the Napoli defender was able to collect the ball and score the opener. On the half hour, the referee awarded Fiorentina a penalty for a foul on Roberto Baggio by Giuseppe Bruscolotti, which looked to have occurred outside the area. Baggio’s spot kick left Claudio Garella with no chance and the sides were level.

Six minutes after the interval, and Napoli had their chance from the penalty spot, when Maradona was fouled by Michele Gelsi. Maradona made no mistake and that goal turned out to be the winner for Napoli.

The home side topped the group, but when the draw for the next round was made, the two sides would meet again in the last sixteen. That two-legged tie wouldn’t be played until after Christmas, and Fiorentina travelled to the San Paolo again on January 6th, 1988, for the first leg.

Napoli came into this Wednesday game having lost 4-1 at Milan on Sunday, while Fiorentina had recorded a 1-0 win over Roma. Fiorentina would be back at the San Paolo just four days after this Coppa tie, as the sides would meet in the league. The first leg started just as the group game had ended, with a Maradona penalty. Fiorentina then took a 2-1 lead, with goals either side of half time from Stefano Carobbi and Roberto Onorati. Careca then put Napoli level with over half an hour still to play. The final goal came from an Argentinian, but the home crowd’s hero, rather an ex-Napoli player. Ramón Díaz netted the winner with ten minutes remaining, inflicting Napoli’s first home defeat in over two years. It also remains Fiorentina’s only win at the San Paolo in the Coppa Italia.

Fiorentina took that narrow 3-2 lead into the home leg two weeks later. In between, Napoli had already gained revenge with a 4-0 league win over the Viola. But in the second-leg Napoli would need to win by two goals after Fiorentina scored three away from home, and when Alberto Di Chiara put the Viola in front after 33 minutes, it had now become almost a mission impossible. It remained 1-0 until the interval, with Napoli now needing three goals in the second half, as long as they didn’t concede another one.

Napoli needed an early goal after the break, and with just four minutes played they found it when Andrea Carnevale headed home a free kick sent into the box by Alessandro Renica. When Renica made it 2-1 with his own headed goal from a corner, there were still 18 minutes left to play, and it seemed almost inevitable that Napoli would find that third goal.

Rosario Lo Bello, the referee, disallowed a goal from Stefano Carobbi which would surely have finished Napoli off. Then, with ten minutes left to play, Carnevale put Napoli through, the Fiorentina defenders protesting in vain for offside. Napoli had pulled off the comeback, and Fiorentina were out of the Coppa Italia.

Back in the Seventies, the sides would meet in four different seasons in the competition, and all four came in the final group stage. In the 1970/71 edition, the first stage consisted of nine groups of four teams, then it went to the quarter-finals, and the last four teams played in a final group, with teams playing each other home and away, and the winner of the group would be awarded the Coppa Italia.

That final group consisted of Milan, Torino, Napoli, and Fiorentina. It didn’t start until the end of May, when the league season was already over, and Fiorentina travelled to Naples for the first group game. Giorgio Mariani gave Fiorentina an early lead after seven minutes, but less than ten minutes later, Antonio Juliano levelled the tie. There were no further goals, and they had to settle for one point each.

The sides met again in Florence on June 16th, when Fiorentina more or less ended Napoli’s chances in the competition. A 2-0 win, put Fiorentina level on five points with Milan, Torino were a point behind, while Napoli had just two points on the board, with just two games left to play.

Fiorentina’s next game was away to Torino, who they had beaten 4-0 when they met in Florence. They could only manage a 1-1 draw this time around, but Napoli’s 3-2 win over Milan left the Viola one point clear of both Milan and Torino going into the last round of games. A 1-0 defeat at Milan however, lost Fiorentina the cup, and with Torino winning against Napoli, Milan and Torino ended level on top. They needed a play-off to decide the winner, and Torino came out on top.

The following season, 1971/72, the competition format changed again. This time the initial seven group winners, plus the holders, Torino, would go into two final groups of four, with the winner of these two groups competing in the final. Having both won their groups, Fiorentina and Napoli again found themselves in Group B at the final stage, along with Bologna and Lazio. Again, the final group stage took place after the league finished and having played out a 1-1 draw in Florence in June, the sides met in Naples on July 1st in a tie which would decide who would qualify for the final.

Napoli were leading the group going into this last round of games, but Fiorentina were just a point behind, so a win would put them through. A goal after ten minutes from Mario Perego made the Viola’s task that bit harder, but a quarter of an hour later and the sides were level. Giorgio Braglia had only made one league appearance all season, but this was his second goal in the Coppa Italia, and one which reawakened Fiorentina’s hopes. They were unable to find another goal however, and the game ended in a 1-1 draw, which saw Napoli qualify for the final, where they lost to Milan four days later.

In 1975/76, yet again the clubs met in the Group B at the final stage of the competition. In a group which also contained Milan and Sampdoria, both Fiorentina and Napoli went through their six games unbeaten. The opening round of matches, saw Fiorentina travel to Naples, on Wednesday 19th May, three days after the end of the Serie A season. This would be the last game as Napoli manager for Luis Vinicio, the Brazilian, who had been a player at the club in the Fifties, had fallen out with the owner, Corrado Ferlaino.

The 40,000 fans who were at the San Paolo for this four o’clock kick off, weren’t given much in the way of entertainment. The Fiorentina team included Franco Superchi, Claudio Merlo, Giancarlo Antognoni and Walter Speggiorin. The entrance of Giorgio Braglia in the second of livened things up a little, but the player was now part of the Napoli squad. With neither side able to break the deadlock, a scoreless draw gave them a point each to open the group. When they met again in Florence in June, again they could not be separated, and the 1-1 result was Fiorentina’s fourth draw in the first four games of the group.

Fiorentina did manage to beat Sampdoria in the next game, but a draw with Milan in the final round of matches left them two points behind group winners Napoli. Napoli went on to win the final 4-0 against Verona at the end of June at the Stadio Olimpico. All four goals came in the last fifteen minutes of the game, and one was scored by Braglia. Giorgio Braglia, who only made that one league appearance in Viola, would do much better at Napoli, and he scored five goals to help the club win this Coppa Italia.

We’re not going to finish this story with a Napoli trophy win, so our last trip takes us to the season before this. The 1974/75 season brought the two clubs together again for the final group stage, this time along with Torino and Roma. All three teams had finished ahead of Fiorentina in the league campaign, with Napoli runners-up to Juventus and Roma in third place, Fiorentina ended the season in eight place, four points behind Torino in sixth.

The first group game would again see Napoli host Fiorentina, on Sunday May 25th, a week after the end of the league season. Nereo Rocco had just finished up as manager in Florence, and it would be Carlo Mazzone who took over from the following season, but for now he would be in the stands watching on, as Mario Mazzoni, Rocco’s assistant, sat on the bench. Fiorentina were also without Antognoni for this tie.

Playing these games at 4pm at this time of year didn’t contribute much to the spectacle, as two sides with many regular players missing, struggled under a scorching sun. After a scoreless first half, Napoli scored the only goal of the game two minutes after the interval. Defender, Tarcisio Burgnich rose highest to head home Rosario Rampanti’s corner.

Fiorentina now had three consecutive home games to get themselves back in contention, and after victories over both Torino and Roma, on June 15th it was time for the rematch with Napoli. Fiorentina went into the game level on four points with Torino at the top of the group, with Napoli just one point behind. Luckily the kick-off times had now changed to a more humane 9pm.

It took a penalty five minutes before the break for the home side to open the scoring. In fouling Speggiorin, the Napoli keeper, Nevio Favaro came off the worst and needed to be replaced by the young Pasquale Fiore, making his debut for the club. Favaro had been signed from Fiorentina, where he had only ever made one league appearance. The penalty was converted by Gianfranco Casarsa, who with seven goals had been Fiorentina’s top scorer in the league, but this was his first goal in this competition.

Five minutes after the break and it was that man Braglia again, who scored against his former club to level the tie. Fiorentina recovered from the shock, and at the mid-way point of the second half, in a move which involved Antognoni and Casarsa, it was Domenico Caso who put the Viola back in front. With ten minutes to play, Casarsa went off injured and was replaced by Claudio Desolati, and five minutes later he made sure of the win, scoring the goal which made it 3-1. With Torino held to a draw by Roma, it left Fiorentina a point ahead at the top of the group, with two games left to play.

Despite then losing to Torino and drawing in Rome, Napoli’s win over Torino on the final day allowed Fiorentina to win the group on goal difference. At the end of June, Fiorentina faced Milan in the Coppa Italia final, in the Stadio Olimpico in the capital. Casarsa again opened the scoring from the penalty spot, but the sides went in level at the break. Vincenzo Guerini put Fiorentina back in front after the break only for Milan to level again through Luciano Chiarugi, former Fiorentina player who would later also join Napoli. It was a substitute, Paolo Rosi, who scored the winner two minutes later, as Fiorentina held on to win 3-2 in the end.

This was Fiorentina’s fourth Coppa Italia title, and both the Viola and Napoli now have six wins in the competition. They did of course meet in one final of the tournament, in 2014, but the less said about that game, the better.

The winner of tonight’s game in Naples, will then have a quarter final tie at home to Atalanta. It’s a tough road to the final in Rome in May, but for now we can still dream of lifting a trophy, it’s been a while!

(Although he scored for Milan in that final of 1975, Fiorentina still went on to win, so we can forgive Luciano Chiarugi. He is a man who has given much to our club, stepping in as caretaker manager in times of turmoil. Happy Birthday Luciano!)