Vincenzo Italiano brought back what looks most like his preferred XI, with Christian Kouamé on the wing and M’Bala Nzola up front. Zoran Barisic opted for Moritz Oswald at leftback and Fally Mayulu at striker.
Rapid Wien started, well, rapidly. The Austrians pinned Fiorentina deep, pressing furiously and winning possession high up, then countering at speed. They were inches from doubling their lead in just the 7th minute, but Mayulu slammed his finish off the bar. Biraghi returned fire with a volley that fizzed just wide, but it felt like the visitors were far more dangerous, exemplified by Marco Grüll smashing one just over after Biraghi and Luca Ranieri failed to clear a high ball.
After an initial 15 minute spell, though, the Viola fought back and took control, with Arthur orchestrating things well from deep and getting his forwards involved. Kouamé played Nzola clear through but the Angolan failed to beat Niklas Hedl 1-v-1. He was stonewalled again by the keeper with the flag up and then had an effort saved off the line, too; it was a rough day for him. Kouamé and Nico also came close a few times. When halftime arrived, it felt like the hosts deserved a lead despite that early period of suffering.
The Viola kept their foot on the gas, but their focus wavered a couple of times, allowing Mayulu a couple of very good chances that the young striker couldn’t convert. At the other end, Kouamé and Nico continued serving as the engines of the attack, and it was fittingly those two who created the goal. Chris ran down a long pass, stayed with it, and fed Biraghi for a low cross that Rapid’s defense coped with poorly, allowing González to slot home the rebound and drag Fiorentina back to level terms.
Newly energized, Fiorentina redoubled its efforts as Rapid looked to run out of steam, but the breakthrough just wouldn’t come. Lucas Beltrán snuck in behind and created a mess of chaos but the ball wouldn’t go over the line, then Rolando Mandragora stung the crossbar from range and Alfred Duncan leveled a piledriver straight into Hedl that left the goalkeeper wincing and holding his ribs. The winner arrived just before full time, as Mandragora played in a cross that obviously hit a defender’s arm. There was no need for VAR, so Nico stepped up and did what he does: drag the Viola onto bigger things, converting the spot kick for a brace.
Rapid threw numbers forward and hammered the ball into the box, but Fiorentina saw them off with no real trouble and walked away worthy winners, considering that they’d outshot their opponents 40-12 across both legs (12-8 on target), seen 65% of the ball, and committed 22 fouls to Rapid’s 37.
Goals: González 59’ 90’ PK
Cards: Mandragora 19’, Arthur 52’, Italiano 64’ (lol), Sottil 90’+4; Kühn 19’, Kerschbaum 25’, Querfeld 43’, Sattlberger 82’, Grüll 89’
The group stage draw is Friday, 1 September. UEFA’s club coefficients are used for seeding, which means Fiorentina will be in Pot 2 or Pot 3; the hope is obviously for the former, as the latter could lead to a group of death situation. The group stage kicks off Thursday, 21 September, so there’s not much lead time to get scouting reports and tactical plans together.
More immediately, Fiorentina head north for a date with Inter Milan on Sunday. A result there could help turn things around for a Viola outfit that’s been as uneven as ever, especially with the season’s first international break beginning directly after that clash with the Nerazzurri. For now, though, let’s just revel in a well-deserved win.