Wouter Vrancken didn’t make any crazy changes to his lineup, while Vincenzo Italiano brought in Oliver Christensen, Luca Ranieri, Michael Kayode, Cristiano Biraghi, Arthur, Riccardo Sottil, and Lucas Beltrán. While you might’ve thought that the rain would keep things from getting too fiery, about 100 Fiorentina ultras were barred from the stadium by Belgian police after clashing with Genk ultras before the game, leaving the visiting support a little light on numbers.
Neither side was particularly sharp to start with as the slick playing surface seemed to trouble both teams; both Fiorentina and Genk seemed content to press in midfield and try to capitalize on heavy touches rather than build from the back. That pattern was broken up by Luca Ranieri scoring his first-ever goal for Fiorentina, although Mike Vandevoort really made a mess of it.
The visitors had all of 5 minutes to enjoy the lead before some poor defending off a set piece at the other end allowed the hosts to equalize. Some slack marking and multiple failures to clear the ball as it rattled around the 6-yard box allowed Andi Zeqiri to prod home and level the scores.
Andi Zeqiri levels the score!pic.twitter.com/32LlGWIysH— Football Report (@FootballReprt) September 21, 2023
Fiorentina, of course, could turn to the game’s most lethal finisher to restore its lead. Yep, it was Ranieri again, meeting a Nikola Milenković flick at the back post from a corner and dramatically heading home, although it did take a long VAR check to make sure he was onside. Once that was done, though, we had confirmation: Luca’s the best finisher the Viola have.
The rest of the half was definitely a bit sloppy, but the real story was what felt like some deeply uneven refereeing. Nico González got nearly flipped upside from an early challenge and Christensen got crushed in the air by Mujaid Sadick (who definitely looked up on his way in to see what was happening), while Rolando Mandragora and Cristiano Biraghi got booked for a pretty innocuous challenges. The game started to get pretty chippy towards the end of the half, so it was probably for the best that Stéphanie Frappart ended it when she did.
The tempo of the game plummeted as both sides were a bit too ready to foul, leading to a stop-start affair with no real rhythm and no real chances. Frustration was clearly building on the pitch and in the stands, where the Genk fans whistling every decision as Fiorentina dropped deep and looked to play on the break. It seemed like the visitors might well execute the smash and grab, but Milenković (after Ranieri nutmegged his defender in the box!) and especially M’Bala Nzola missed fantastic chances to put this one to bed. Naturally, that meant the good guys conceded late. Once again, it was poor marking from a corner.
Even then, though, the tension wasn’t over: Genk threw numbers forward as Fiorentina tried to hang on. The Viola suddenly found themselves unable to get out of their own half and nearly paid the penalty, but Tolu Arokodare pinged his close range shot off the inside of the post with pretty much the final kick of the game.
Goals: Zeqiri 12’, McKenzie 85’ (ass. El Khanouss); Ranieri 7’ (ass. Biraghi) 23’ (ass. Milenković)
Cards: Muñoz 29’; Mandragora 33’, Biraghi 45’+5
Fiorentina don’t get much respite with a road trip to Udinese on Sunday. The boys will be playing twice a week until the next international break—7 games in 22 days—so it’s understandable why Italiano is trying to save his most important players right now, even though it felt like he may have lost a couple of points as a result. With Ferencváros beating Čukarički 3-1 in the other Group F game, the Viola really need a win when they meet the Hungarians on 5 October.