It’s been a while since we’ve had such a dramatic ending to a Fiorentina game, especially in a knock-out situation. To go down to ten men at Bergamo and find a last second winner was almost too much to take. Having celebrated as if we’d won the Scudetto, then came the long wait for the VAR decision, where it seemed like they were looking for any reason they could find to disallow Nikola Milenković’s goal, it made it all the more unbelievable when the referee finally blew the whistle, and we were through to the semi-final.
Unsurprisingly Atalanta didn’t agree with the VAR outcome, and plenty of media outlets have cast doubts on the validity of the goal. They seem to put all their focus on whether Bonaventura’s offside was not called into play because of De Roon’s intervention. The problem I find here, is that nobody seemed to even bother checking Bonaventura’s position in the first place, we were never shown the offside line, and having re-watched it many times, slowed down as much as possible, to me it looked like he got back onside before Biraghi struck the ball. None of that matters now anyway, we won, we’re still in the Coppa Italia, and our season is very much alive.
It also puts all the drama of late to rest, hopefully. Just like after the defeat at Torino, in the wake of the loss to Lazio we yet again had all the over-reaction, the insults, the criticism, it’s as if people have such short memories, or refuse to learn anything. The sale of Vlahović only increased the focus on that defeat (as if a striker’s absence could be at fault for a 3-0 defeat). We all know what happened after that loss to Torino, we went to Napoli and won another dramatic cup tie, and then hammered Genoa. And yet, so many fans refused to see the bigger picture, to have some patience and wait for the reaction of the players on the pitch.
After the last few depressing seasons, we finally have a manager who has us playing the type of football that we can actually enjoy. We finally have a group of players who actually look like a squad, a family, not a bunch of lost individuals, and that to me is the most important thing this season.
Having finally recovered from the drama of last night’s game, I realised that we had done the double at Bergamo this season. Atalanta will soon come to the Franchi, where we have a chance for a rare treble win. But we have done the double before at Bergamo, winning twice there in the same season, and it happened just once, when we in fact lifted the Coppa Italia away to Atalanta. Let’s look back at that 1995/96 season, when Fiorentina actually won all four of their games against Atalanta.
Two seasons prior to this, Fiorentina had been in Serie B, but Claudio Ranieri would now have his most successful season at the club. When Fiorentina traveled to Bergamo on December 17th, both sides were riding high in the table, with Atalanta three points behind the Viola, who sat in third place. Fiorentina had not won a game in Bergamo since the 1988/89 season, when Roberto Baggio scored the only goal in the victory against Emiliano Mondonico’s side. Mondonico had since returned to Atalanta, and had taken them to promotion from Serie B.
The game remained scoreless until seven minutes before the break. A sloppy back pass from Daniele Fortunato, and unluckily for him, Gabriele Batistuta was quickest to react, and he provided the pass for Francesco Baiano who had no problem finding the net. Less than ten minutes after the interval, Mondonico changed things around, sending on Domenico Morfeo and Franco Rotella, but five minutes later, Batistuta had doubled the Viola lead. Rui Costa, well inside his own half, had the vision and touch to set Batistuta free with a perfect pass, nobody was going to catch Bati with the ball at his feet and heading for goal, and there was only one possible outcome when he faced Fabrizio Ferron in the Atalanta goal.
Atalanta did pull a goal back to reopen the game. Future Fiorentina player, Morfeo, lobbed Francesco Toldo with twenty minutes still to play. Their hopes were quickly dashed five minutes later, when Batigol made it 3-1 with his tenth league goal of the season. Between those two goals, Andrea Sottil had replaced Rui Costa, just as his son Riccardo came on for Nicolás González in last night’s game. Rui Costa didn’t seem quite as upset as Nico though.
That win put Fiorentina into second place, and closed the gap to leaders Milan to just one point. Fabio Capello’s men, which included Baggio, were held to a draw at home by Torino, and the following Saturday, just before Christmas, they would travel to Florence for a top of the table showdown. That game ended in a 2-2 draw, Milan went on to win the Scudetto, and Fiorentina finished in fourth place, level on points with third placed Lazio. Atalanta, despite their great start to the season, ended up down in 13th place, twenty points behind Fiorentina.
In the league game at the Franchi in April, Fiorentina had a narrow 1-0 win, but the big showdown would come in May. On the way to the cup final, Atalanta had knocked out Cremonese, Juventus, Cagliari, and Bologna, while Fiorentina had seen off Ascoli, Lecce, Palermo, and Inter. Back then the final was played over two legs, and the first took place in Florence on May 2nd, before the league season had ended.
This was one of those big-match nights at the Franchi, almost 40,000 fans, with flares and fireworks all around the stadium before kick-off. The first half didn’t bring too much excitement, although Ferron did make a good save from a long-range Batistuta free kick. After the interval, Fiorentina looked livelier, and the goal finally came just six minutes into the second half. Rui Costa played a pass to Bati on the edge of the box, and his violent right-foot shot left Ferron with no chance. The Argentine had another effort just wide of the post, and Atalanta’s best chance saw Toldo out quick enough to block Morfeo’s shot. Just over two weeks later, Fiorentina would travel to Bergamo with a narrow 1-0 advantage.
The Saturday night game brought plenty of tension, with trouble between the fans and police before, during, and after the game. The match itself saw Ranieri make changes from the first leg, Sottil making way for Alberto Malusci, and Sandro Cois, Emiliano Bigica and Francesco Flachi coming in for Stefan Schwarz, Massimo Orlando and Anselmo Robbiati. Mondonico meanwhile, named an unchanged starting eleven, as they looked to come back from 1-0 down.
Fiorentina could have taken a first half lead, but after Ferron saved a Flachi effort, Batistuta had a chance from the rebound and should have done better than to find the goalkeeper’s leg. The sides went in level at the break, Fiorentina still holding that slim one goal advantage. Three minutes after the interval, and Fiorentina had one hand on the cup, when Lorenzo Amoruso met Rui Costa’s corner with a sweet right foot volley.
Back in Florence, the Stadio Franchi was packed with fans as if the game was taking place in Florence. They watched the game on the scoreboard screen at the Curva Ferrovia end, and when Batistuta made it 2-0 on the hour mark, the celebrations could really begin. They watched as their team lifted the trophy far away in Bergamo, and they would wait long into the night for their heroes to arrive back at the stadium to celebrate together. Not surprising, given that they had waited 21 years to see their team win a major trophy.
The gap between both wins at Bergamo that season was five months, the first one coming on December 17th and the final decided on May 18th. This season’s first win at Atalanta came on September 11th, and practically five months later, February 10th, we completed the Bergamo double.
We still have a way to go before we start thinking about lifting another trophy, we still have a two-legged semi-final coming up, with a certain team from Turin, with a certain ex Fiorentina player.
One thing Vincenzo Italiano and his players have allowed us to do is to dream again, first about European football, but maybe, just maybe, after another 21-year gap, there could be a trophy to play for at the end of this season. Let’s try to stick with this team, stay behind them, even when things go wrong. Forza Viola!