by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 6th 2014)
Relegation threatened Sassuolo ended hosts Fiorentina’s admittedly slim hopes of third place and a berth in next year’s Champion’s League in Florence’s Artemio Franchi Stadium with a thrilling 4-3 win thanks to a first half hat-trick by Domenico Berardi and the winner by Nicola Sansone after 64 minutes.
Trailing 3-0 at half time Vincenzo Montella’s Viola left the field to deserved boos. Despite dominating possession and creating the better chances in the first 20 minutes they failed to capitalise on their advantage and looked a beaten side as they trudged off. Montella had other ideas. Sassuolo, however, took nothing for granted. “We saw Liverpool go three up yesterday,” Nicola Sansone said, “so we knew that anything could happen.”
It very nearly did. Whatever version of the Riot Act Montella favours, it worked – well almost. Former Real Betis and Valencia winger Joaquín Rodríguez made an immediate impact when brought on in the second half, triggering hopes of a comeback by winning a 56th minute penalty when fouled by Alessandro Longhi. Gonzalo Rodríguez converted it. The come-back was on? Sassuolo had other ideas. Sansone restored Sassuolo’s three-goal cushion only for Giuseppe Rossi and Juan Cuadrado to set up an exhilarating final 15 minutes.
The False Dawn
Fiorentina knew that they could afford no slip ups if they were to overtake Rafa Benítez’ Napoli – already boasting an 8 point advantage with just three rounds remaining. A harsh penalty and yellow card was awarded against former Barçelona starlet Borja Valero for handball after he blocked Davide Biondini’s shot.
Valero protested that it was not deliberate and he had a point. He was far too close to be able to respond, but it made no difference to referee Tagliavento di Terno. 10 minutes later the Artemio Franchi Stadium was silenced when Berardi doubled the visitors’ lead. Sansone put him through, but despite not being Montella’s first choice goalkeeper Antonio Rosati has to do better than allow himself to be beaten so easily at his near post.
|With less than five minutes of the first half remaining Berardi completed his hat-trick after being put through by Simone Zaza who had hit the post from just outside the area two minutes earlier. Again Rosati should have done better. The Viola had several chances, none of which they had taken. Sassuolo deservedly led 3-0 at half time.
Having seen Liverpool blow a three-goal cushion against Crystal Palace, Sassuolo were determined to keep the pressure up. No sooner had Gonzalo scored than Sassuolo cranked up the pressure. Only Simone Zaza will know how he failed to score on 63 minutes after Berardi gift-wrapped the chance for him. A minute later Zaza’s blushes were spared by Sansone.
But any thoughts the visitors may have had that it was match over with 25 minutes left were quickly dispelled. Former Manchester United and Villarreal forward Giuseppe Rossi took Valero’s pass in his stride to score from close range.
Three minutes later the ‘remarkable’ come-back was definitely on as Fiorentina’s best player on the night, Colombian winger Juan Cuadrado latched on to David Pizarro’s long ball to delightfully chip keeper Gianluca Pegolo.
Fiorentina believed again, but try as they did they could not find another. Two minutes after Cuadrado’s goal Rossi went close, but his shot was narrowly off-target. With time running out Berardi needed treatment. He decided to continue, but soon succumbed kicking the ball out and going down near the touchline.
That incensed Fiorentina players – Berardi was dragged off the pitch and a brawl ensued. The Viola refused to return the ball. Berardi stayed off despite all substitutes having been used. Despite 6 minutes added time Sassuolo hang on for a famous win that took them out of the relegation places and ended the Viola’s slim chance of Champion’s League football next season.