04 December 2021

VIOLA CLASSICS: At the summit of the Apennines

Rarely has the Derby dell’Appennino been played when both teams have been on such an upward trajectory. The season of 1996/97 was just that, as both teams finished the season with relative success. This was a period when Italian football was basking in the warm glow of knowing that Serie A was unquestionably the best league in the world by some distance. It was an era when the best players on the plant flocked to the peninsula and this made the Derby between Bologna and Fiorentina even more enthralling this year.

The Derby Dell’Appennino gets its name from the Apennini Tosco- Emiliani Mountains of the Apennine Mountains, it is a range that separates the two cities. It is a beautiful landscape but if you travel by train from Florence to Bologna don’t expect to see it. The journey takes you through a tunnel that has been blasted through the great mountain range and you simply see snippets of light as small openings zoom past.

Back in 1996 Italy had been in the throes of a general election, Michael Schumacher won the Grand Prix in Monza, 11 people died in the Secondigliano district, in Naples, due to the Secondigliano tragedy and incredibly ‘Born Slippy’ by Underworld topped the Italian charts. Fiorentina visited Bologna with some reservations. They had started the campaign indifferently and had lost their opening game against Vicenza. After this a draw with Atalanta, a win at Hellas Verona and a defeat to arch rivals Juventus meant that they were not full of confidence.

Bologna however, had managed to have a better start to their campaign. In the opening five games, wins over Lazio, Hellas and Sampdoria were credible as was a draw against Udinese and arguably even a close loss to Milan. They were looking forward to the Derby and felt they could achieve much this season. They had dangerous players in attack such as Kennet Andersson, Davide Fontolan, Igor Kolyvanov and Igor Shalimov, whilst defensively coach Renzo Ulivieri, looked to be making progress as they looked organised.

Fiorentina on the other hand, coached by Claudio Ranieri, had a superb squad. Francesco Toldo was proving just what an asset he was in goal with Lorenzo Amoruso and Aldo Firicano in front of him. The genius of Rui Costa in midfield was complemented by Stefan Schwarz and Sandro Cois, whilst up front, none other than Gabriel Batistuta was flanked by Luis Oliveira and Anselmo Robbiati. 

Before the game police presence was on full alert as it was claimed that not only did the Bologna Ultras have something planned but so did the away support. Bags were searched but as the game was about to kick off the home side unveiled a choreo that went half way around the stadium. In the early moments the Viola were under pressure as first Kolyvanov missed an easy chance and then Andersson pushed Toldo into making a good save low to his left. The away side failed to produce anything of note other than half chances but then ‘Gabi-gol’ decided enough was enough.

A fine passing move on the edge of the box saw Cois finally find Batistuta unmarked, around 25 yards out. Bologna realised they had not closed him down and rushed to block the shot but it was too late. He dispatched the ball with considerable interest into the bottom right hand corner of the goal, Alex Brunner came close but could do nothing to save it. From nothing the Argentine allowed the Viola to go in at half time after scoring just a minute before the whistle.

This kick started Fiorentina, the fans released a volley of flares before the second half and the atmosphere in the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara changed. The action was there from that start, Cois hit the post from an angle at distance and Toldo saved well soon after from Kolyvanov. It was then that Cois, having a superb game, decided to try from 30 yards and his shot deflected over Brunner to make it 2-0, he deserved the goal but it was given as an own goal much to the disappointment of Marco Di Marchi. There was now only ten minutes to go and Oliveira could have made it three if he had gone for power of a chip. 

It was a win that was needed for the Viola and gave them confidence to beat Milan in the next game. This saw them go undefeated in six games after the Derby win losing only one in their next 11 games. The season saw them finish 9th but they did win the Supercoppa Italiana and reach the UEFA Cup semi-finals. They would also beat Bologna 3-2 in Florence later in the season but this game showed just how valuable Batistuta was in changing the mood of a game from almost a none chance.

Written by Richard Hall (@RichHall80)

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