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Fiorentina 2 Liverpool 0: match report

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29 Sep 2009 21:48:32

Fiorentina 2 Liverpool 0: match report

The death of Serie A may have been greatly exaggerated. Likewise the insistence that the Champions League group stage was little more than a procession for the Premier League's financial titans. The idea that Spain and England boast a duopoly on the world's finest young stars, too, may have been mere illusion. Stevan Jovetic barely featured on English radar 24 hours ago. Devoted Manchester United and Arsenal fans may have been vaguely aware of him, his name having been mentioned in dispatches as part of both clubs' global trawl for talent. His presence hardly struck fear into the hearts of the visiting supporters. Besides, Italy, as we have been told so often, has been robbed of its jewels. Not quite. Kaká and Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be gone to join the galaxy of stars in La Liga, but they have an heir in waiting. Jovetic's name adorns thousands of knock-off replica shirts on countless stalls on endless piazzas in Florence. The fans call him the Montenegrin Messi. Liverpool now know why. His two first-half goals, both expertly taken, were rich reward for a performance which the scampering Argentine would have been proud to call his own. Full of energy, invention and promise, he bamboozled a Liverpool backline whose reputation is built on quelling the murmurings of such striplings. He was helped, no doubt, by the uncharacteristic nervousness of Rafa Benítez's side. They hesitated on the ball, misplaced simple passes and, within 20 minutes, had resorted to the sort of direct, hit-and-hope style for which English teams were so long derided on the continent. Having called the jittery Martin Skrtel into blocking one shot, from the ensuing corner he skimmed a perfectly-judged cross to the waiting Marco Marchionni, whose audacious overhead kick rippled the top of the net. The teenager came within inches of connecting with Adrian Mutu's low, driven cross. The warning signs were there. Liverpool failed to pay heed. Cristiano Zanetti, a grizzled veteran from the days when English sides were little more than sacrificial lambs on Italian soil, robbed the dithering Lucas, slid the ball between both centre backs to an unguarded Jovetic, who delicately took his prize. He almost doubled the lead within a minute, a rasping, angled shot stinging Pepe Reina's palms as Liverpool teetered, but, regardless, his wait for a second was not long. Glen Johnson, still a Champions League novice, was naively drawn inside to try to deal with a Marchionni cross, leaving himself exposed when the ball broke for Juan Vargas. The Peruvian fired the ball back across the box, where Jovetic waited, the deftest of touches steering the ball between Reina and his near post. By half-time, Liverpool looked shell-shocked. They had been lionised from the moment of their arrival in Florence, Benítez described by his opposite number, Cesare Prandelli, as an idol, the headlines full of respect and awe for the superstars who are normally only glimpsed on TV. Benítez was right when he suggested his hosts would be excited by the chance to play 'a big team'. The club's ultras, fresh from arranging a twinning agreement with Liverpool's fans, unfurled a banner before kick-off welcoming Liverpool to the city, informing the travelling hordes that Liverpool's "story to us is a legend". Their first song of the evening detailed their love for the visitors, a refrain familiar in Italian grounds, regularly directed at Milan and, darkly, Juventus. Perhaps Liverpool's players took their feting as a sign of weakness, an indication that Fiorentina, representative of all Italian sides, were simply glad to be on the same pitch as the giants of the Premier League, the apogée of the world's game. The intensity, especially in attack, which has characterised their recent performances was conspicuous by its absence, Liverpool's players seemingly caught between indulging the attacking instincts which have brought them such a haul of goals domestically and obeying the more cautious instructions Benítez had detailed to them here. The Spaniard was at pains to illustrate that his teams have always been offensively-minded, always capable of scoring goals, but there has been a tangible change of emphasis. Liverpool are no longer the masters of snuffing out their opposition. They have grown out of their dogged determination phase, into something more. Returning to it does not suit them. After the break, through necessity if nothing else, Liverpool at least boasted some purpose. Yossi Benayoun, a virtual spectator, went close, while Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres both went some way to proving to the Italian public their reputations are not utterly ill-deserved, the former narrowly missing the target with a looping header, the latter menacing on occasion. The night, though, belonged to Jovetic and to Fiorentina, their fans deafening throughout, bouncing and clapping, setting off flares and smoke bombs, delighting in the sight of Liverpool's superstars brought to Earth and the decisive levelling of the Champions League playing field. Perhaps, even, a statement of intent, that Serie A's long night is starting to break. Fiorentina's proud boast that they have never lost to English opposition is something of a misnomer - it is largely down to a scarcity of opportunities - yet this was conclusive proof that Europe's premier competition, for so long lacking in the unknown or the unexpected, still has its uncharted territories. 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