We head back in time to 1996, when the Viola beat Inter to reach the Coppa Italia final.
It is hard to argue that from the middle of the 1980’s to the late 1990’s, Italian football was not the elite league in Europe, if not the planet. In the 1995/96 season, Fiorentina were at the pinnacle. Now one of the world’s most famous cities had one of the world’s best teams. This was a season when silverware would come to the Franchi and the team had some elite talent. Gabriel Batistuta, Rui Costa, Francesco Toldo, Francesco Baiano, the list goes on. Perhaps a pivotal moment in this season came at San Siro on the 28th February 1996 in the second leg of the Coppa Italia.
In February 1996 the world of Italian football was an exciting place. Milan would win their 15th title this year with the Viola finishing a commendable fourth and in turn, earning themselves (because of the Coppa) a place in the following seasons Cup Winners Cup. Inter would finish seventh this season just edging into the UEFA Cup and were desperate for silverware to make up for this. Bari, Torino, Cremonese and Padova said bye bye to Serie A whilst Bologna, Verona, Perugia and Reggiana would win promotion from Serie B. The top scorers in Serie A this season were something to behold as Igor Protti and Giuseppe Signori would top the scoring charts with 24 goals each, Batistuta would share fourth spot with a healthy 19 goals.
Back in August of 1995, not many fans in Florence perhaps were too interested when the Viola beat Ascoli 2-1 away. It wasn’t the best performance in all honesty, they had gone a goal behind but scraped a victory. Next up, Lecce, a team that would be promoted to Serie B this year, however, it was a formality surely? 5-0 the end score, Baiano got a brace and that job was done. Things looked more promising in the second round after they overturned Serie B’s mid-table Palermo, even so this was expected and the 3-1 score line was acceptable over two legs for the first time.
It could be said that Fiorentina had been guilty of having an easy run so far but next up it was Inter. A two legged semi-final against a side that boasted Gianluca Pagliuca, Nicola Berti, Paul Ince, Roberto Carlos, Marco Branca and Maurizio Ganz. This was a squad that on its day could destroy an opposition but they were also capable of collapse. The first leg would be at the Stadio Artemio Franchi and it would be two games that Fiorentina fans won’t forget in a hurry.
If you watch this game back, the first thing you have to do is credit the Curva Fiesole. The fireworks, flags and flares were simply incredible but yet beautiful and intimidating. This must have had an impact as Fiorentina started quickly, so quick was Baiano, that Massimo Paganin could only bundle him to the floor, penalty. Batistuta stepped up and scored, Pagliuca went the right way but as usual the power was too much.
This semi-final was going to become all about one man, ‘Bati-gol’ and on the 48th minute he would show why. Ganz had equalised for the visitors but then, straight after the re-start a beautifully weighted pass fell to the Argentinian, he glanced it off his chest, he should have struck with his left but instead he delicately lobbed Pagliuca with his right, it was a thing a beauty that he had no right to score. On 86 minutes he completed his hat-trick. After Inter stopped after what looked to be a foul on a Viola player but the game didn’t stop and Gabriel found himself on the ned of an incisive pass that put him on a race to beat Pagliuca, the finish was the work of a master craftsman, as he slotted it past the Inter custodian albeit Gianluca got a hand on it. It ended 3-1, now for San Siro.
This was an era where you could never write off Inter. Yes they had lost the first leg but they had the quality to come back, they had an away goal and they had the formidable Curva Nord. This was a game where it was about who blinks first. It was a game where Inter had chances and took none of them. The game looked like dying and being put into the annuls of history and a fascinating 0-0 draw, but then it happened. Rui Costa, short pass to Baiano, a turn of pace, a pass through the eye of the needle and ‘Bati-gol’ was on his way. Once again he would stare Pagliuca in the eye and challenge him to stop him.
The Inter keeper had the goal covered, he expected power. Instead, Batistuta chipped him with the elegance of a Faberge egg, the ball took an age before it nestled in the top corner. It was a moment of absolute genius. That was it, Fiorentina went to the final where they would eventually beat Atalanta but for all Fiorentina fans, the moment of belief came in those games against Inter and Batistuta confirming that he was one of the best strikers of all time.
Written by Richard Hall (@RichHall80)