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Giancarlo Rinaldi On April - 8 - 2011

Rinaldi Reminisces: Fiorentina-Milan

How Fiorentina banished the nightmares of C2

Finding a ticket to an old football match at the bottom of a drawer is like discovering hidden treasure. It flicks a time-travel switch sending the mind scrabbling backwards trying to recall as much detail as possible about the game concerned. It stirs the soul with emotions from another era.

My house is littered with such mementoes, most of which I have been reluctant to consign to the rubbish bin. I hoard programmes, newspaper match reports and countless other ephemera from games I have attended. They serve me well in conjuring up the atmosphere of disappointment, euphoria, rage and delight surrounding many of the fixtures I have witnessed.

Few are more evocative, for me, than a match stub from November 2005 at the Stadio Artemio Franchi. It was Fiorentina’s second season back in the top division after the Inferno of Serie C2 and Purgatorio of Serie B. My father, myself and my best friend decided we were entitled to a little Paradiso.

We could hardly have timed our pilgrimage to Tuscany any better. The Viola were on a flying run thanks to the incredible goalscoring feats of Luca Toni. He had 13 Serie A strikes to his name after just 11 matches and the club was sitting in a healthy third place. Their opponents, Milan, were three points ahead in second spot, busily trying to mount a serious challenge to table-topping Juventus. It had all the ingredients for a special day.

We had travelled to Florence by train from Pisa where our hotel receptionist, a Milanista, had taunted us before departure. Imagine, he said, coming all the way from Scotland to see your team lose. Still, he said he hoped we at least got a nice day out. Little could he have guessed what pleasure lay in store.
It seemed that we had no sooner settled in our seats in the tribuna – in fact 10 minutes had passed – than Fiorentina were ahead. A Manuel Pasqual free-kick was met, inevitably, by Toni and the home side had the lead. I was definitely stunned at the speed with which the boys in purple had got their noses in front. There was also fear of how powerful the Rossonero reaction might be.

They did not disappoint in that regard, and nor should they have with a side which, looking back, had an enormous technical advantage over the home team. Cesare Prandelli was just starting to mould his side but it had a workmanlike look. Players like Pasqual, Dario Dainelli, Marco Di Loreto, Christian Brocchi, Martin Jorgensen and Marco Donadel were more honest professionals than Serie A superstars. Milan could count on Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini, Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, Kaka and Andriy Shevchenko among their number. Heck, they could even afford to leave old Viola hero Rui Costa on the bench.

The visitors started to make their class tell and it was no real suprise when the scores were levelled about 25 minutes in. A great Fiorentina striker of the future – Alberto Gilardino – met a Serginho cross to head home. The usual wringer of emotions had started in earnest.

Push as they might, however, Carlo Ancelotti’s men could not make their evident skills tell. The sides went to the interval all square and when they came back out Fiorentina produced another lightning start. In the opening minute of the second period another Pasqual cross fell the way of Jorgensen and he made no mistake to beat Dida. Once again the underdogs had the lead.

Slowly but surely the visitors started to throw everything they had at the home side. Rui Costa came on for Seedorf, Cafu for Jaap Stam and, finally, Pippo Inzaghi for Kaka. The Milanese giants were desperate to get something from the match in order to keep up the pressure on Juve.

They thought they had found their way through about seven minutes from time. A Rui Costa cross was knocked home by Gilardino but the linesman spotted a tug on Di Loreto. It was a fortunate let-off for the Florentines but one which they managed to capitalise upon.

With time ticking away and the supporters’ nerve-endings frazzled, it was Toni who settled things. He nodded another goal past Dida with four minutes remaining to decide the game in Fiorentina’s favour. The majority of the thousands of fans who streamed out of the ground were delighted.

The atmosphere on the streets was akin to a major trophy victory. Motor scooters buzzed towards the city centre like mad, metallic bees. Car horns hooted along the Viale Dei Mille as if a third Scudetto had been won. Having been playing in tiny grounds across Tuscany just a couple of years previously, the Viola had taken one of the biggest scalps in Italian and European football. In the process they had joined them in second place in Serie A – just five points adrift of Juve. I recall trying as best I could to absorb that special atmosphere.

“A miracle? No, a project,” pronounced the Corriere della Sera. “Rather than criticising Milan … we should recognise this Fiorentina project. We should praise Cesare Prandelli for the astute way he sets up his team. The Della Valles, without spending excessively, have given him a strong side - and he has taken it even higher. “

Of course, this would be the season that Calciopoli would turn on its head. There were further celebrations in Florence when they thought they had secured a fourth placed finish at the end of the campaign to go into the Champions League qualifiers but that was stripped from them with a 30-point penalty. Their spot went to Chievo instead.

A similar fate awaited Milan who received the same points deduction which forced them into the qualifying rounds of Europe’s elite competition. Not that it did them much harm, of course, as they went on to win Champions League in 2007. Juventus, who had finished on top of the table, were relegated and the title was contentiously awarded to Inter.

Still, despite that bitter finale, nothing could quite take away the pleasure provided by that victory over Milan. It seemed like a watershed moment for the Viola who had struggled in their first season back in Serie A but were now clearly building a stronger challenge. Having gone through such turmoil in recent times there was the promise of better days ahead.

Myself, my father and my best friend travelled back to our hotel in Pisa, heads still pulsing to the beat of the car horns on the streets of Florence. We took great delight in taunting our Milan-loving receptionist. Then we settled in for a good meal in the glow of a great victory. I would swear that our red wine that night was among the finest I have ever sampled. And I think I can still taste it, every time I stumble across that match ticket stuck at the bottom of some dusty filing cabinet.

3 Responses so far.

  1. ted says:

    No offense Rinaldi, but I hope Milan win. although I’m expecting a draw..
    At least Ibra’s back, if all else fails, just lob the ball to him 100 times. Eventually he’ll score.xD

  2. Caclio Pauly says:

    Milan put on a clinic last week without Ibra - seemed more of a team effort. Will be interesting to see how the ball moves now that he’s back in.

  3. ted says:

    haha..we’ll have to wait three more weeks. He got himself sent off, again..lmao

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