ACF Fiorentina took a significant step towards the UEFA Champions League group stage as goals in either half from Adrian Mutu and Alberto Gilardino earned the Italian side a 2-0 home victory against SK Slavia Praha.
Viola fans came out in droves to the Stadio Artemio Franchi and their team responded by taking a firm grip on this third qualifying round tie. Cesare Prandelli's side attacked from the off and the crowd had to wait just three minutes for a goal as Mutu fired a spectacular free-kick into the top corner. It was the worst of starts for Slavia, who were grateful for some fine Martin Vaniak saves for keeping them in the game before Gilardino broke his resolve 12 minutes after half-time, heading in goal on his competitive debut to leave Fiorentina well placed ahead of the return in Prague on 27 August.
In truth, the hosts' margin of victory could have been greater. Mutu may have done the early damage with his set-piece but it was Zdravko Kuzmanović that was causing all the problems. His shots from distance kept Vaniak on his toes and how the keeper needed to be when the Serbian international drifted out to the flank just before the interval. He delivered a perfect cross only for Gilardino to put his header wide of the far post, though Vaniak was soon in action after the restart, astutely keeping out Juan Manuel Vargas's free-kick.
An equaliser appeared far removed, and instead Fiorentina continued to press and got their reward when Gilardino rose to atone for his earlier miss in fine fashion. It was a memorable way to mark his competitive debut following his summer switch from AC Milan and but for more brilliance from Slavia's second-choice keeper Vaniak he could have had another soon after. Mario Alberto Santana was also denied as the Viola refused to relent their attacking bent, though having limited their dominant opponents to a 2-0 victory Slavia will feel there is all to play for in a fortnight.