It felt like a pretty festive atmosphere, almost like a friendly, given the 4-0 lead Fiorentina took into this one. In keeping with the preseason vibes was the whole scale squad rotation from both sides: 14 players who didn’t start in the first leg featured here, including a debut for Salvatore Sirigu and Alessandro Bianco’s first start in Europe.
It wasn’t any huge surprise that the Viola were pretty disjointed in the early going, unable to work the ball into the final third, aside from a nice Nicolás González header that forced Tiago Sá into a sharp save. Still, the Viola seemed very disjointed, particularly when Cristiano Biraghi lost Rodrigo Gomes in behind. The young winger smashed a shot on frame from a tight angle that Sirigu saved, but Braga got the rebound and it eventually dropped for André Castro to volley home quite nicely.
The early goal seemed to gas Braga up and they started pressing even harder, leaving Fiorentina’s collective heads whirling. They doubled the lead in the most basic fashion: a thump up field that Simon Banza headed on after Luca Ranieri failed to challenge him, and Álvaro Djaló latched onto the bouncing ball past a pathetic Lucas Martínez Quarta challenge and lashed home.
With shades of Borussia Monchengladbach dancing in our heads, Fiorentina seemed to wake up a bit. It was Giacomo Bonaventura who slipped in down the right and slid a cutback in for Rolando Mandragora’s late run; the midfielder’s finish took a touch off the defender but eventually found the back of the net to halve the deficit and settle a lot of nerves.
After the goal, the Viola perked up a bit. González, Arthur Cabral, and Mandragora all had late opportunities, but the halftime whistle ended things at 1-2 and it’s hard to argue that Braga didn’t deserve their lead, albeit more through Fiorentina’s fecklessness than anything else.
Aleksa Terzić replaced Dodô at the break and Fiorentina quickly began looking a bit sharper, weathering Braga’s pressure and getting the ball forward. Fiorentina looked to have grabbed the equalizer after some lovely work from Terzić and Bonaventura let Cabral slide home a goal that the goal line technology initially awarded, but referee Benoît Bastien eventually went to the VAR monitor and reversed the decision, leaving the home team and fans absolutely furious.
He was powerless to rule out the next one, though, with Terzić and Jack involved again. This time, the Serbian fullback held off a man and got the ball to the Italian midfielder, who knifed through several defenders to lead a 4-v-3 break before feeding Riccardo Saponara, who finished with typical aplomb into the bottom far corner.
Bastien really lost the thread after the hour mark, handing out some very odd bookings to LMQ and Biraghi as temperatures flared and the level of play plummeted. Despite the bile, though, Fiorentina slowed things down, allowing few opportunities and creating a few of their own. They made it count when the Arcebispos threw too many forward, giving them a chance to counter, and it ended with Jack dinking a cross in that Cabral harpooned home.
Fiorentina 3x2 Braga (ida: 4x0)— Goal_Futgols (@futgolss09) February 23, 2023
⚽️ Arthur Cabral
Giacomo Bonaventura (3)
Conference League | 16 avos pic.twitter.com/v1qwW1g9Ab
And if you think Arthur wasn’t salty about that goal he had incorrectly ruled out, well.
Braga had a few more chances as they hurled everyone forward, and Fiorentina had some as they looked to the counter, but with a 7-2 lead on aggregate, it was pretty well over, and the Franchi was in full-on celebration mode for the final minutes (just ask MaarekP—who was in attendance—can doubtless attest).
Goals: Mandragora 37’ (ass. Bonaventura), Saponara 58’ (ass. Bonaventura), Cabral 83’ (ass. Bonaventura); Castro 16’, Djaló 34’ (ass. Banza)
Cards: González 56’, Martínez Quarta 70’, Biraghi 71’
Sure, it wasn’t easy, but a 7-3 aggregate win over the 3rd-best team in Portugal feels pretty dang good. It’s a testament to this team’s mental toughness (at least in cup competitions) that it emerged from the smoking embers of its own making to not only advance but earn an actual win, too. We’ll know the Round of 16 opponent tomorrow, but let’s just enjoy tonight, please.
Despite the win, Fiorentina do still have obligations in Serie A, starting with Tuesday’s (why Tuesday?) clash at Hellas Verona. The gemellagio between these two should make it a fairly enjoyable match, and hopefully some fresh legs will help them close out the season with a little more verve.