With the games these days coming thick and fast, it’s hard to even find the time to look back at our history against upcoming opponents. Our next match finds us at home to Cagliari, and for this I decided to go back to a place that nobody wants to go although it’s been in our minds a lot lately- Serie B.
In 2003/04 Fiorentina found themselves in Serie B not because of a disastrous relegation, but because of a promotion. First of all, as Florentia Viola the team had won Serie C2 and were expecting to compete in C1, but due to Cosenza going bust, Fiorentina found themselves pushed up to Serie B. This certainly didn’t go down too well with other clubs such as Pisa and Martina who had lost out in the Serie C1 promotion play-offs. Due to the usual Italian end of season controversies, court cases and appeals, Serie B was extended to 24 teams, and there would be 6 promotion places up for grabs to reach Serie A as it too would be enlarged to 20 teams the following season.
All of this gave us possibly the most interesting and competitive Serie B season you’re likely to see. Apart from Fiorentina and Cagliari, those battling to return to the top flight would include the likes of Napoli, Genoa, Palermo, Atalanta, Verona, Livorno, Bari, Ascoli and Torino. It also included the goal scoring prowess of players such as Luca Toni, then with Palermo, Cristiano Lucarelli and Igor Protti both at Livorno, Gianfranco Zola who had decided to end his career with Cagliari while Diego Milito was at Genoa. Added to this of course was Fiorentina’s own hero Christian Riganò.
Fiorentina and their DS Giovanni Galli didn’t have much time to prepare for this unexpected Serie B adventure, with the decision only coming on August 20th. The new season was due to kick off just ten days later, but amidst the inevitable protests it wouldn’t get going until September 11th. Also, by the time the decision was made, Fiorentina were already taking part in the Serie C Coppa Italia. They completed the full round of games in their group, even after the decision had been made that they would not progress in the competition in the event of winning the group. They were also the only team from Serie B not to be included in the Coppa Italia itself, although that competition was a mess from the start with many teams not turning up for the scheduled games in the early group stage in protest against the proposed 24 team Serie B.
New signings for the 2003/04 season included the Argentinian goalkeeper Sebastián Cejas from Ascoli, Alessandro Lucarelli from Palermo and Christian Maggio from Vicenza. The manager Alberto Cavasin would be relying on a lot of the players that had allowed his team to top the table in Serie C2. Captain Angelo Di Livio would still be there as well as the top scorer Riganò. Luca Ariatti was another player who would be an almost ever present this season.
Cagliari arrived at the Stadio Artemio Franchi for a Friday night game on January 16th. This was the final game of the first half of the season. At this stage Cagliari had replaced their manager, Edy Reja coming in for Gian Piero Ventura. Before the game Cagliari were in seventh place on 34 points, with Fiorentina down in 14th position, six points behind. Fiorentina were unbeaten at home in their previous 11 games at the Franchi, which included five drawn matches. It was away from home where the Viola were really struggling, having failed to win any of their 12 games on the road up to now.
Fiorentina had been busy in the winter transfer window, and would include six of the new players in the starting line up for this game. These included Enrico Fantini and Greek International player Zīsīs Vryzas who arrived from Perugia in Serie A (He would go on to win the European Championships in the summer of 2004 with Greece). Vryzas had already scored in his first two appearances for the club before this game, with Fantini also on the scoresheet in his first game. Another player to drop down from Serie A was defender Thomas Manfredini, on loan from Udinese. The stadium announcer was a little confused when announcing the team before the game, calling him Christian Manfredini, who had already left the club to return to Lazio after his loan spell.
The Cagliari team lined up with Zola, Andrea Capone and David Suazo up front, Suazo would go on to play with Inter Milan and Benfica. They also had French defender François Modesto, who would move to Monaco at the end of the season.
Fantini had an early chance, his run into the box with the ball at his feet ended with a shot that Cagliari goalkeeper Armando Pantanelli managed to push away. Zola then played a lovely through ball for Capone but Cejas was quick off his line to avert the danger. But with 15 minutes played it was Fiorentina who took the lead, Fantini again causing problems on the wing and his cross was headed on by Vryzas and Riganò was there to meet it with a close-range overhead kick.
The home team were not allowed to relax after going in front, with Zola a constant threat, creating plenty of chances for Cagliari. Just before the break though, Fiorentina could have doubled their lead, Fantini went on another run beating three players before firing his shot over the bar when he could have played it across the box for one of his waiting team-mates.
With only seven minutes played in the second-half Fiorentina did manage to get that all important second goal. Three Fiorentina players went down in the Cagliari box as a free kick was floated in and the referee awarded a penalty for a push on Riganò. The Fiorentina bomber stepped up to take it himself, and stuck it in the corner for his 13th goal of the season.
Ten minutes later and Fiorentina’s job looked a lot easier after the visitors went down to ten men. Gianluca Festa was booked for a foul on Riganò and his protests led to a second yellow and a red card. Despite this, Cagliari fought on and they looked to have got themselves back in the game with over twenty minutes still to play. A Zola free kick was headed on where it found the head of Diego López but he scored from an offside position.
On the half hour mark Cagliari finally made the break through. From a Zola corner, Marcello Albino’s shot took a deflection off Ariatti which left Cejas helpless. Fiorentina managed to see out the remaining fifteen minutes without too much trouble, until the first minute of the four added on. Manfredini was sent off for a foul on substitute Fabrizio Cammarata, which seemed a little harsh as he wasn’t really the last man back for Fiorentina. The last real action of the game then was a free-kick from Zola, but as it sailed over the bar Fiorentina fans could celebrate an important three points.
Fiorentina moved to within three points of Cagliari with this win, and after the rest of the weekends action had moved up to ninth place. After this win, Cavasin’s team would fail to get a victory in their next four games which would lead to the manager losing his job, he was replaced by Emiliano Mondonico. Fiorentina would finally get an away win at Verona in March, and would also win their next away game at Bari, this was in a five match winning streak.
Cagliari meanwhile went 11 games without defeat after their loss at the Franchi. This did include seven draws however, which meant that after rising as high as second place they started to slip back. A defeat to Napoli at the end of March was followed up by seven wins in a row which took them back up near the top. One more loss at Genoa was just a slight hiccup as they then went on to win their last three games of a long season, including a 3-1 home win over Fiorentina on the final day of the season. They ended the season in second spot, level on points with Serie B champions Palermo.
Fiorentina went on a five game winning run of their own in March/April, including a win over one of their rivals for 6th place, Ternana. Christian Riganò who scored both goals in that win over Cagliari at the Franchi would end the season with 23 goals. Going into that final game away at Cagliari, Fiorentina had already secured that coveted sixth spot, which although didn’t mean automatic promotion, it did give them a promotion play-off tie with Perugia. The rest, as they say, is history, and Enrico Fantini would have a major part to play in that too.
I could have taken a look back at our most recent games at home to Cagliari, but as the last three matches have brought us two draws and a defeat, that just didn’t seem like what we needed right now. Our last win at home against the Sardinian club was back in March 2017, when a last minute Nikola Kalinić gave us a 1-0 win. It might have been a good time to remember our 4-2 win in 1999. In that game Giovanni Trapattoni’s team found themselves 2-1 down to Ventura’s Cagliari after an hour of the game was played. Edmundo pulled Fiorentina back level with less than fifteen minutes to play, but they weren’t finished there, as Gabriel Batistuta scored two goals in the last ten minutes to grab the win for the home side.
If you’re looking for some positive omens, then I can tell you that in Cesare Prandelli’s first spell in charge, Fiorentina won all five home games against Cagliari. This included a 5-1 win in December 2007, our biggest ever win over our opponents. The game was 1-1 after only five minutes, Riccardo Montolivo putting the Viola ahead after three minutes and Michele Fini equalizing two minutes later. Adrian Mutu would go on to score two goals late in the first half, the second of these from the penalty spot and Mario Santana added another couple of goals after the break.
One curiosity from Prandelli’s time in charge was the Cagliari defender Michele Canini getting sent twice at the Franchi. These came in the 2005/06 and the 2008/09 seasons, and on both occasions he received his marching orders in the 89th minute. Also, in both those games, Cagliari had two men sent off.
In the end I went with a season that is close to my heart, a long hard fought Serie B campaign, when I was a season ticket holder at the Franchi. A season that brought the club back to the top flight of Italian football, a place where we intend to stay despite the struggles so far this season.