Dagui Bakari's first-half strike gave Lille OSC a valuable 1-0 away first-leg win in the UEFA Cup third round against struggling AC Fiorentina at the Artemio Franchi stadium on Thursday.
Fiorentina, who are stuck in the relegation zone in Serie A and experiencing severe financial problems, were undone when Bakari, who was played through by Christophe Landrin, delicately chipped over the advancing Alex Manninger in the 24th minute.
Despite being in front of their own fans, Fiorentina showed little invention throughout the game, although Portuguese striker Nuno Gomes was denied by a fine stop from LOSC goalkeeper Grégory Wimbée, who also tipped over a long range Roberto Baronio effort.
The home side did have the ball in the net midway through the second half when Ezequiel González latched on to a quickly taken free-kick but the goal was disallowed as the whistle had not been blown.
'They were afraid'
Vahid Halilhodzic was justifiably delighted after his side secured a slender lead to defend in France in a fortnight's time. "I saw that Fiorentina started with a defensive formation so I guess they were afraid of our team," said the LOSC coach. "We have played a strong, well-organised match and we have completely deserved that victory - we could even have scored another goal."
'It won't be easy'
Despite netting a crucial away goal and shutting out Fiorentina, Halilhodzic knows the second leg is no formality, adding: "I know it will be difficult in the return leg because when we played against Parma [AC] in a UEFA Champions League qualifying round we won 2-0 in Italy but suffered a lot in the second leg. So I am sure it won't be too easy to go on in the competition."
Opposite number Mancini, who saw his Serie A selection options reduced even further after Daniele Adani was carried off injured two minutes from time, said he was proud of the mettle his side showed: "We knew that Lille were a very strong team but I am proud of this performance. We deserved an equaliser and maybe the victory because we had many good chances. In spite of this defeat I am sure we can win in France in the second leg."