Mountain to climb in Florence


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Vincenzo Montella’s Fiorentina side are staring down the barrel of defeat at the half way point of the semi-final stage of the UEFA Europa League 2014/15 after being defeated by a 3-0 scoreline away to Sevilla at the Estadio Ramon last week.

La Viola now face a gargantuan task on home turf at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence in overturning that 3 goal deficit to turn the tables on the current reigning and defending champions who can afford to sit back and defend their lead with the knowledge that nicking an away goal on the counter would kill off the Italians for good.

Only one team has ever come back from a three-goal deficit in a UEFA Europa League knockout phase tie. In the 2013/14 quarter-finals, Valencia CF bounced back from trailing 3-0 after the first leg to beat Swiss team FC Basel 1893 5-0 after extra time.

It may be a rarity but Sevilla and their boss Unai Emery ought to know better than most the dangers of resting on a first leg lead. Los Blanquirrojos almost let a 2-0 lead slip in the exact same stage of the competition in last season’s semi-final.

Comeback kings Valencia almost pulled off another turnaround as they beat Sevilla 3-1 at the Mestalla to pull the aggregate score to 3-3 but it was Sevilla who stole the show and progressed through on away goals thanks to Mbia’s goal in the dying seconds of injury time after the full 90-mins. That man Stéphane Mbia is likely to make his 50th UEFA club competition appearance in Florence.

History bodes well for Sevilla. They have never been eliminated in a European semi-final and they have the added incentive that they can become the first side to win the UEFA Europa League for an unprecedented fourth time.

Meanwhile Fiorentina may draw some confidence from the fact that they have won the return legs of all three of their knockout ties this season. They also beat AS Roma by 3 goals to nil away from home this season which is no mean feat so have proved they are more than capable of scoring goals.

Although they lost the first leg by a conclusive score-line, coach Montella would have been disappointed with his side’s profligacy in front of goal with the likes of Mario Gomez and Matias Fernandez missing guilt edge chances in the opening quarter.

However a frenetic tempo at the start of the match did see them create a host of good opportunities which will serve as a positive to take into this second leg. The likes of Salah and Fernandez are certainly capable of testing the Sevilla backline if they perform to their maximum.

Sevilla’s victory was ultimately well deserved though; they were industrious and hunted together in packs like terriers and took their chances when they arrived. There is a growing sense that Sevilla have just got it right when it comes to European knockout football and that they will not be denied. They are well suited to counter attack having successfully countered more than any other team in the competition.

It’s going to take something unbelievably special from the Italian side to reach the final in Warsaw. If they go too gung-ho too early Sevilla could hit on the break to devastating effect. However Sevilla are not the sort of team that are comfortable with shutting down and bolting down the hatches completely as their defensive record indicates so it is still within the realms of possibility despite being extremely unlikely.

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