May, 1990. A momentous month in the history of Calcio.
The peninsula was getting ready to host an eagerly anticipated World Cup and as if to celebrate that occasion, Serie A clubs emphatically planted a flag of supremacy in club football, sweeping through every UEFA tournament. On 9th May Gianluca Vialli scored twice in injury time for Sampdoria to break Anderlecht’s dogged resolve in Cup Winners’ Cup final. Two weeks later Frank Rjikaard grabbed the only goal as Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan dispatched Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Benfica to be crowned champions of Europe for a second consecutive season.
Europe’s third best competition lacked the same glamour but it was the UEFA Cup that played center stage to an unprecedented event – an all Italian final of a UEFA competition. Dino Zoff and Francesco Graziani, teammates in Gli Azzuri’s 1982 World Cup triumph, clashed swords – the former coaching Juventus and the latter, Fiorentina. It promised to be a celebration of Italian football’s might and glory but eventually turned into two ill tempered and often controversial matches that added a prominent milestone to Fiorentina’s bitter rivalry with the Turinese giants.
That rivalry started in early 1980s, a decade that Fiorentina began on a positive note when they came tantalisingly close to winning Serie A in 1981/82. They rarely reached the same heights in the years that followed and often struggled for consistency. After a 10th place finish in 1986/87, Sven-Goran Eriksson was employed to arrest the slide. In his first season i Viola’s fortunes didn’t change significantly though the table position was slightly improved.
In the second half of the 1980s, silverware was scarce but Fiorentina’s faithful had started to bask in the glory of Roberto Baggio. Days before his 1985 transfer to Fiorentina was finalised, Baggio was struck by a knee injury so serious that it was suspected that his career would end at a tender age of 18. Fiorentina, however, kept their faith in him and helped in the recovery process even if it meant he played the first game after almost a year of joining. A grateful Baggio soon began to repay their faith, scoring 9 goals in 34 matches in Eriksson’s first season, while striking up a productive partnership with Argentine Ramon Diaz.
Diaz left for Internazionale the following season with AS Roma legend Roberto Pruzzo and Stefano Borgonovo (on loan from AC Milan) arriving in Florence. The latter, along with Brazilian international Dunga, would have a major impact on Fiorentina’s 1988/89 season. Baggio instantly developed a telepathic tandem and great friendship with Borgonovo. Borgonovo tragically passed away in 2013 due to Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In a letter to his late friend, Baggio would write:
What united us was a magical formula, dubbed by the sports papers as “B&B” you and I ran into space, knowing where we would meet for an assist, or a goal.
The duo notched a total of 40 goals in Serie A and Coppa Italia. Their most sensational showing came in a three goal plunder against eventual champions Inter during a 4-3 victory. It was one of only two games the Nerazzurri lost in league. At one point i Viola looked comfortably on course for top five finish but a poor run of form after April saw them win just once in ten matches and drop to 7th. A play-off for UEFA Cup ensued with Roma, who finished level on points. The game was decided with a hint of irony after Baggio made his way past Giallorossi defence and teed up Pruzzo, who headed in the only goal.
In comparison I Bianconeri’s UEFA Cup qualification was uneventful with a fourth placed finish. Since their last Serie A title in 1986, Juventus had surrendered their mantle as the top team in Italy to Napoli and both Milan clubs. Despite containing the likes of Stefano Tacconi, Oleksandr Zavarov and Michael Laudrup, the Juventus squad was distinctly pedestrian when compared to the vintage class of early 1980s. In 1988/89 season they never challenged for the title but did just enough to ensure UEFA Cup qualification.
Looking to improve their fortunes, the Old Lady replaced Rino Marchesi with Dino Zoff. The new coach managed to somewhat revive Juve’s performance in the league but it was in Cup competitions that Juve really excelled, defeating reigning European champions AC Milan in final to win their first Coppa Italia title since 1983.
Juve’s form in UEFA Cup was also encouraging. They opened their campaign in Poland against Gornik Zabrze and won courtesy of a 76th minute goal from Zavarov. Sadly, the result paled into insignificance due to a great tragedy that struck before the match. Juve talisman Gaetano Scirea was on a mission to gauge Gornik before the first leg. On 3rd September, 1989 the car that was carrying him collided with a truck near Babsk. There were several canisters of gasoline in the trunk which exploded on impact, killing Scirea and two more passengers.
In return leg, Juve put the result beyond doubt within first 25 minutes thanks to a brace from Toto Schillaci and goals from Daniele Fortunato, Giancarlo Marocchi.
Paris St Germain and East German club Karl Marx Stadt put scant resistance in following two rounds as Juve picked up identical 3-1 aggregate victores to reach quarter-final. Zoff’s team continued the trend of notching away victories with a 2-0 victory at Hamburg in first leg of the quarter-final. Pierluigi Casiraghi scored once and assisted his strike partner Schillaci. The tie seemed like a foregone conclusion when Roberto Galia put his body on the line to score a first half goal in Turin. Hamburg then gave Juve a mighty scare, taking a 2-1 lead on 78th minute but were unable to complete a famous comeback.
In semi-final Juve faced yet another West German club FC Koln. Dominating most of the first half at home, the Bianconeri took a commanding 3-0 lead by 53rd minute. Zoff’s team then became complacent and the tie was left poised on a razor’s edge thanks to two Koln goals in last ten minutes. The West Germans had scored 12 times in four home matches in their UEFA Cup campaign and Juve knew they couldn’t afford another lapse in concentration. Aided by a solid performance from Luigi de Agostini in defence and a few sharp saves from Stefano Tacconi, the Old Lady ground out a gritty 0-0 draw in Cologne, reaching their first UEFA Cup final in 13 years.
Unlike Juventus, Fiorentina’s form graph took a plunge in 1989/90 season. Eriksson was off to Benfica and Borgonovo had returned to his parent club. There were a number of changes in the squad and to make matters worse, i Viola had to temporarily relocate because of renovation work in Artemio Franchi for the upcoming World Cup. In Serie A Baggio waged a lone battle, scoring 17 times and finishing behind Marco van Basten in Capocannoniere list. However, that was not enough to arrest his team’s downward spiral and eventual relegation battle. Coach Bruno Giorgi was replaced by Francesco Graziani in late March but there was little change in their league form. Fiorentina eventually finished 12th, just one point above relegated Udinese. A dismal Serie A campaign coupled with an early Coppa exit meant their only hope of salvation lay in UEFA Cup.
Fiorentina were handed a tough draw in the first round against an Atletico Madrid side boasting of Baltazar, Manolo and Paulo Futre in attack. Atletico won in Madrid but i Viola cancelled the result in Perugia, their temporary home, thanks to a first half goal from Renato Buso. A tense penalty shootout ensued and four out of the first seven kicks were wasted. Manolo missed Atletico’s fourth kick but Baggio, who had already made his name as a set piece expert, blasted Fiorentina’s last kick into the top corner.
Buso was again the hero for Fiorentina in next round, his crucial strike against Sochaux ensured his team progressed on away goals after both legs had ended in draws. They faced another major hurdle in third round, going up against Dynamo Kyiv coached by the great Valeriy Lobanovskyi. I Viola won the first leg at home with Baggio converting a 77th minute spot kick. The away leg in Kiev was played under difficult conditions on a frozen pitch – a topic of post match complaint from Lobanovskyi. Fiorentina however, were thankful as Dynamo’s fluid passing style was crippled, enabling them to carve out a 0-0 draw.
After three closely fought rounds, they were in better command of the quarter-final and picked up solitary goal victories in both legs against AJ Auxerre.
1989/90 UEFA Cup semi finals had the common theme of West German clubs going up against Italian clubs. As Juventus went up against FC Koln, Fiorentina found Werder Bremen on their path. Under Otto Rehaggel’s tutelage Werder was enjoying a golden era. They had won the Bundesliga two years before and also reached back to back German Cup finals in 1989 and 1990. In UEFA Cup Die Werderaner rolled like a juggernaut and soon became the team to avoid. With Karl-Heiz Riedle and Patrik Rufer in prolific form Werder had found the net 22 times in 8 matches, including a 8-3 aggregate destruction of Diego Maradona’s Napoli in the Third Round.
Thus the semi-final between a free-scoring Werder against a Fiorentina side whose UEFA Cup campaign was built on defensive frugality was a real clash of styles. I Viola were underdogs in the first leg in Bremen and perhaps surprised bookmakers as they took a lead on 78th minute when Marco Nappi latched onto a long punt from defence to smoothly beat Reck. They almost pulled the perfect Italian job only to be denied by a late scrappy goal after a melee from a Werder corner deep into injury time.
In the second leg Fiorentina overcame an early injury to dependable defender Stefano Pioli to deliver a disciplined performance and eked out a 0-0 draw. This match is also remembered for Nappi’s audacious trick of running from his box to the midfield with the ball bobbing on his head.
Along with Fiorentina’s performance another thing that made the newspapers was crowd trouble in Perugia. 30,000 fans in purple had created an intimidating atmosphere and threw fireworks and smoke bombs on the pitch. The climate was so volatile that authorities asked teams to not warmup on field. Before the start of second-half Reck removed purple scarves that were tied to the goal. This action incensed Fiorentina Ultras, some of whom climbed past the barrier and ran on to the pitch. Reck was confronted and was hit by objects thrown at him. He collapsed and had to be treated for minor injuries but played 90 minutes.
Seconds before the end there was a pitch invasion and players had to team up with police to clear the ground. After the final whistle there was yet another pitch invasion. Werder President Dr. Franz Bohmert didn’t mince words in his post match comments and stated, “The circumstances and the hostile, aggressive atmosphere have hurt us. Nevertheless, Fiorentina decided the game in a sporting way”.
Head to head stats from 1989/90 season favoured Juventus, they won 3-1 in Turin while the reverse leg ended in a 2-2 draw. It was also beyond doubt that i Viola’s form in UEFA Cup wasn’t a fair reflection of their league campaign.
On 2nd May, 1990 the first leg of the first all Italian UEFA final took place at Stadio Communale, Turin. Any hope Fiorentina harboured of keeping their pristine defensive record intact was crushed after just three minutes. Schillaci drifted on the right wing, dragging Giuseppe Volpecina out of his position and set up Galia to draw first blood. A few minutes later Nappi’s powerful long ranged effort forced an acrobatic save from Tacconi. The veteran Juventus keeper however, could do very little on the 10th minute when Renato Buso bravely headed in a low cross from Alberto di Chiara to grab a vital away goal.
There were no more goals till the break but the first half was an exciting affair with both teams coming forward. It was also a feisty 45 minutes and clattering tackles flew in frequently. Pre-match expert assessment had suggested that Fiorentina would play a defensive game but they had shown plenty of offensive fervour. In midfield Aleinikov & Marocchi were sloppy, allowing Dunga to control it. Juve’s defence especially had a difficult time reading the movement of Nappi, who made lung bursting runs from deep midfield. He also created the best chance of the first half, releasing Baggio with a gorgeous diagonal pass just after the half hour mark. One on one with Tacconi, Baggio didn’t try his trademark move of rounding the ‘keeper but instead tried to chip the ball which was smothered by the Juventus veteran.
As the second-half kicked off, Fiorentina changed their approach and looked keen on preserving the scoreline. In hindsight, this was a tactical error from Graziani as Juventus grew stronger, led by pint sized Portuguese attacker Rui Barros.
On 59th minute came the moment for which this match would later garner all its notoriety. A Juventus move resulted in the ball bobbing in the box after a poor clearance. It fell to Angelo Alessio but his acrobatic shot took a deflection and fell into the path of Casiraghi, who only needed to guide it into the net. The dubious incident came just before Alessio’s shot when Casiraghi blatantly pushed down Celeste Pin. It was a clear foul and the move should have been stopped right at that point, disallowing Juve’s goal. To the horror of i Viola players, Spanish referee Emilio Soriano ignored the foul and allowed Casiraghi’s goal to stand.
Fiorentina players were visibly incensed and the same anger spread to the stands where riot police had to be deployed. The players vented their rage with increased physical play and the game turned into a series of scuffles. This lack of flow further dented any attacking attempts by i Viola and they rarely got out of their half. Their lack of attacking intent would help Juventus to grab a third goal in the 73rd minute when Marco Landucci in Fiorentina goal completely misjudged a hopeful long ranger from De Agostini.
Amidst all the drama and controversy, Juventus had picked up a solid lead in aggregate. Still seething, Pin shouted “ladri” (thief) in Zoff’s earshot during the latter’s post match interview. For Viola fans, this was an all too familiar feeling of injustice against their hated enemies.
That feeling grew even stronger when the alternate venue for the return leg was announced. Perugia was deemed unsuitable after crowd trouble in semi-final so Fiorentina was asked to play their “home” game in Avellino, a town 500 kilometers away from Florence with a concentration of Juventus fans.
Within the first minutes of kickoff on 16th May both teams came close to scoring – a header from Galia and a shot on half turn by Baggio flashing past the goal. Juve came out of the blocks stronger but their opponents carved out another good opportunity and a close range attempt from Baggio was inches from finding the net. Before the half hour mark Schilacchi, who was causing Viola defence all sorts of problems with his direct running, shot wide.
There were no goals in the first half, with Zoff’s side looking the stronger going forward and had taken the sting out of Fiorentina’s attack. Baggio was kept under tight marking while Nappi, one of i Viola’s most dangerous players in the first leg, was stymied.
Juventus kept defending in numbers in the second half and all Fiorentina could attempt were long range efforts, one such shot from Lubos Kubik stinged Tacconi’s gloves on its way wide. On the other end, Schillaci wasted a free header on 58th minute. Seconds later Fiorentina received a shot in the arm when Pasquale Bruno was shown his second yellow card after a foul on Buso. It forced Zoff’s hand as he sacrificed Barros to tighten up his midfield and defence. Despite the man advantage i Viola struggled to break down Juventus defence with Nappi, Sergio Battistini and Baggio trying feeble or misdirected long rangers.
Just after the hour mark Fiorentina mustered a dangerous attack, Dunga’s well placed header was acrobatically saved by Tacconi and two more efforts in the same move were desperately blocked by Juve defenders. The Juventus ‘keeper was yet again called to action when he saved a freekick from Baggio taken from edge of the box. Few minutes before the final whistle Juve had a shout for a penalty but West German referee Aron Schmidhuber missed Schillaci getting pushed in the face and being brought down by Battistini.
The stalemate remained unbroken when Schmidhuber blew the final whistle. Juventus had won their second UEFA Cup title and Fiorentina failed to add to their lone European silverware, the 1961 Cup Winners’ Cup.
Over the course of 180 minutes it was undeniable that Juventus were a much stronger side. Despite Fiorentina’s righteous anger over Casiraghi’s goal it is difficult to argue based on i Viola’s performance that it would have changed the end result. Tacconi and Schillaci were both excellent for Juve and there were no performers from Fiorentina to rival that. Dunga, their best player in the final, was often left to fight a lone battle in both midfield and attack. By neutralizing Baggio for the majority of both legs, Juve had snuffed out Fiorentina’s most potent attacking threat. Even with almost 30 minutes of a man advantage, i Viola rarely broke down a resolute Bianconeri defence – when they did they found Tacconi an unbeatable foe.
Despite winning two trophies in two seasons this proved to be Zoff’s last match. He was replaced by Luigi Maifredi who had a nightmarish tenure. Juventus had to wait for five more years to win their next Serie A title with Marcelo Lippi as coach. A third UEFA Cup title was added in 1993.
For Fiorentina the road after this match was rocky. Fans were still smarting from the UEFA Cup loss when news broke about Baggio’s transfer to Juventus. This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. They came onto the streets in protest of their best player being sold to a hated rival – the world record £8 million price tag mattered little. They attacked Fiorentina headquarters, reportedly with bricks and Molotov cocktails. President Flavio Pontello had to take refuge in the Artemio Franchi. 50 people were injured and 9 were arrested.
In Gabriel Batistuta Viola fans soon found a new hero but their performances didn’t improve, resulting in a relegation in 1993. They would take a few more years to once again become a force in Italian football.
The 1990 UEFA Cup final may not have involved the best teams in Serie A but in terms of drama, controversy and moments of quality it was an apt representation of a league which was at its zenith. The enmity between Fiorentina and Juventus was just a decade old and this match was the final act in establishing one of the more unique and bitter rivalries in Italian football.
Words by Somnath Sengupta: @baggiholic