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Fiorentina 1-2 West Ham: Player grades and 3 things we learned

A heroic Viola side came away without hardware but displayed its mettle.

ACF Fiorentina v West Ham United FC - UEFA Europa Conference League Final 2022/23 Photo by Rob Newell - CameraSport via Getty Images

Player grades

Pietro Terracciano—10: Made some big saves and couldn’t have done anything on either goal. Never going to be a household name, but he shows up and does his job every single game.

Dodô—10: Irritated the hell out of everyone he encountered. Defended quite well, hitting some big tackles and keeping Saïd Benrahma quiet. Barely influenced the game at the other end.

Nikola Milenković—10: Battled Michail Antonio to a standstill, showcasing his unbelievable athleticism and intelligence. Not at fault on either goal.

Luca Ranieri—10: A lot of fans questioned whether he had the talent and temperament to start in a game like this. He proved that he does beyond a doubt. If he hadn’t cramped up, might’ve been a very different ending.

Cristiano Biraghi—10: Heroic. The way he applauded after getting cut open by a vape pen a fan threw at him is amazing. The handball wasn’t really his fault, although he should’ve switched on more quickly for the long throw that led to it. Can’t blame him, though, as he brought all the grinta imaginable. What a captain.

ACF Fiorentina v West Ham United FC - UEFA Europa Conference League Final 2022/23 Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Rolando Mandragora—10: Fired narrowly wide with a chance to hand Fiorentina a 2-1 lead, but he was solid enough. Helped keep the ball ticking over and showed some clever movement, but impressed most out of possession, not allowing the ballyhooed Declan Rice much time or space.

Sofyan Amrabat—10: Monumental. Wrecked everything West Ham tried to build through the center. Set the tempo in possession. Did all his usual things. If that was his final performance in a purple shirt, it was a fitting one.

Nicolás González—10: Man of the match. Always looked like the guy likely to come up with the breakthrough and, sure enough, created it. Despite getting kicked within an inch of his life, brought intensity and verve. And my goodness, this was an amazing moment.

Giacomo Bonaventura—10: He’s never been afraid of the moment and he stepped up when his team needed him. Constantly probing and thrusting to find space in a very deep block. Just the kind of winning mentality this team needs.

Christian Kouamé—10: Hit the post with a first half header but didn’t create much else. Gave it everything, though, and can hold his head high.

Luka Jović—10: Looked more aggressive than usual but didn’t find much space in the area. Nearly opened the scoring but was offside when he got it over the line. Broke his nose and had to come off at the half.

Arthur Cabral—10: Bustled around and had a couple of decent moments, but West Ham packed so many bodies into the box that there wasn’t much he could do.

Riccardo Saponara—10: Had a decent look with a curler and offered a change of pace from Kouamé.

Igor—10: Has drawn the ire of a lot of fans for keeping Jarod Bowen onside for the final goal or for not chopping him down, but that’s a tough situation for a defender to be in, especially one who’d only subbed on moments earlier.

Antonín Barák—10: Came on in stoppage time to try and scramble in another goal.

Three things we learned

1. UEFA needs to keep players safe. It is, to quote the poet Didier Drogba, a fucking disgrace that players aren’t safe from physical harm while they’re on the field. Fans were throwing things at these guys every time they got close to the sideline; the fact that no action was taken clearly gave these knuckledraggers all the permission they needed to escalate their behavior, and the result was Biraghi needing 8 stitches. While his toughness in finishing out the game is inspiring, it shouldn’t have been necessary.

This isn’t even the first time in this tournament that a Viola player got hurt by a fan. Alessandro Bianco got punched in the face by some chud at Sivasspor, too. Fiorentina have already issued a statement condemning the attacks on its players. We’ll doubtless hear more from Rocco Commisso and Joe Barone in the coming days.

But the players and teams can only do so much. UEFA needs to do something to ensure that these guys aren’t in danger. Besides the obvious moral imperative, nobody’s going to play their best when they’re always wondering if some fan is going to ambush them, and distracted players means bad soccer.

I don’t know what the solution is here—Empty stadium penalties? Transfer bans? Fines that actually mean something?—but I don’t get paid millions to run the game. The folks at UEFA do, and they’d better come up with something. Because the alternative is fans getting bolder, more aggressive, and reveling in their ability to impact games with violence against the people on the pitch.

2. Sometimes the better team loses. It was cold comfort in the Coppa Italia loss against Inter Milan, and its even colder now, but Fiorentina’s got nothing to be ashamed of. One of these teams came out with a plan to attack, to generate chances, to actually play. The other one did not. We can argue about tactical decisions or naivety or whatever, but I don’t think anyone will argue that the Viola were more proactive.

But here’s the thing: the better team doesn’t always win. In a one-off game, crazy stuff can happen that swings the outcome in a way that doesn’t tend to happen over a full season. Outlier events get compressed by sample size. Put another way, the better teams usually win across a longer span of time. If Fiorentina played 100 matches against West Ham, I’d guess the Viola would win about 60. But the sheer chaos of a single match, particularly one as weird as this, means that anything can happen. And it did. And Fiorentina, despite being better, lost.

3. Nobody can question the Viola players’ attitude or toughness. I cannot imagine having to play a game in these circumstances, knowing that there are people actively trying to injure you and that they’re sitting that close and that they might throw something else, or run onto the field, or do something else unspeakably violent. Nobody should have to do that. I’ve already written about that.

But goddamn, these guys stuck with it. Biraghi with his stitches gutted it out and his teammates kept it going with him. It would have been easy to be cowed by that sort of atmosphere, to put less of themselves into the game, but they didn’t. They kept playing and kept dominating. They conceded an absurdly cheap penalty and instead of wilting, of thinking, “Well, it’s clearly just not meant to be,” they somehow found another level and equalized. That’s the stuff legends are made out of.

I don’t care that they didn’t get it over the line. The fortitude displayed by these players in this situation is incredible. I don’t think anyone can ever question their toughness or their commitment to the team, now or ever again. They have gone through this crucible and come out untransformed, because they were already the purest distillation of themselves. I could admire them more. I could not respect them more. I could not love them more.