Fiorentina had not recorded a victory over Juventus in front of their home fans for 15 years, a Gabriel Batistuta goal earning a 1-0 victory back in December of 1998.
On Sunday afternoon, the Stadio Artemio Franchi was reminded of their legendary striker by another Argentine, Carlos Tevez taunting the Viola faithful with Batistuta’s idiosyncratic firearm salute after putting the Old Lady 1-0 up. Then it was Paul Pogba’s turn to do the same when he doubled the deficit just before half-time.
Antonio Conte’s team of successive Serie A champions had won 6 of their 7 opening fixtures as they opened their title defence and as the half-time whistle blew, it seemed as if they would extend their impressive unbeaten run in Florence to a 16th year. Giuseppe Rossi however, Fiorentina’s new golden-striker, had other ideas.
Against a defence that for two years previously held the league’s best defensive record, the Italian hit a second half hat-trick, his first in professional football, to rewrite history and send La Viola into raptures.
With Fiorentina’s other senior striker Mario Gomez out for around 3 months with a knee injury, it has been up to Rossi to lead the line alone in Vincenzo Montella’s 3-5-1-1 formation, something the 26 year old has voiced his displeasure at, saying his better at playing off another striker.
Despite a quiet first-half in which he appeared isolated, Rossi’s ferocity and enthusiasm to strive for the team eventually shone through. “He works for the team and is not egotistical. He scored extraordinary goals and gave us the strength to win this match” said Montella after the game.
Montella also admitted he was close to bringing Rossi off as he furrowed alone up front, frustratingly spearheading a disjointed home side who struggled to regain possession in the face of Juventus’s high octane pressing.
Then the tide shifted; Kwadwo Asamoah tripped Matias Fernandez in the box and Rossi, confidence unshaken, converted the penalty. Ten minutes later he darted away from Pogba to unleash a shot that surprised Gigi Buffon as it nestled inside his far post. Joaquin added a third, Rossi again involved with a clever decoy run, before two minutes later, Rossi added his third and Fiorentina’s fourth.
Three goals in four minutes had shell-shocked Juventus and the fourth was the best of them all. Juan Cuadrado burst down the left and centred for Rossi who, bursting with confidence, charged onto it on he edge of the box and unleashed it first-time into the bottom corner. It was breathtaking stuff and Rossi, with Batistuta’s legacy resurrected, had in one afternoon played himself into Fiorentina folklore.
If any testament for the significance of this result was needed, chairmen Andrea and Diego Della Valle provided it in the form of sharing champagne with the players in the dressing room. “For our fans this game alone is like winning a trophy,” said the defender Manuel Pasqual.
Playing as Fiorentina’s only senior striker in the absence of Gomez, Montella’s persistence with Rossi was indicative of the faith the club have had in the American-born Italian striker since he was signed last January.
Captured from Villarreal for just €10 million in the midst of his rehabilitation from back-to-back anterior cruciate ligament injuries, Rossi had not played for 19 months before he was given 26 minutes in Fiorentina’s last game of last season away at Pescara.
A four and a half year deal was suggestive of the consummate faith being invested in the forward who La Viola seemed certain would, when fit, rediscover the form that saw him score 18 La Liga goals for Villarreal in 2010-2011. “Giuseppe Rossi is our future,” commented sporting director Daniele Pradè this summer.
Pradè and Montella have been vindicated, perhaps quicker than they expected, with Rossi’s early season form posting him at the top of the Serie A scoring charts with 8 goals in 8 games. There are still palpable nerves when Rossi goes to ground under a challenge, but whilst he is fit, instinct is taking control and he is scoring goals in abundance.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli will be delighted to see him back, recently describing Rossi as an “integral” member of the Azzurri, as he prepares for this summer’s World Cup.
For Rossi, his immediate aim will be to just continue playing football and scoring to help Montella’s revolution reach the Champions League, the competition they missed out on last season by just 2 points. His goals on Sunday put La Viola just four points behind Juventus who occupy the last Champions League spot on 19 points.
After that prolific final fully-fit year at Villarreal in which Rossi bagged 32 goals in 52 games, Juventus expressed their interest. “A few years ago negotiations got to a very advanced stage,” Rossi told Gazzetta dello Sport last week. “But then Villarreal got into the Champions League and said nobody could leave”.
Then his horrible injuries struck and Juventus didn’t come back in, but Fiorentina did. On Sunday, Rossi showed who was right.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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