ACF Fiorentina took a significant step towards the UEFA Europa League round of 16 with a 3-1 victory against Esbjerg fB in Denmark setting them up nicely for the return leg.
Cold and wet conditions welcomed the Viola to Esbjerg, but if the home side thought conditions might favour them, they soon found out otherwise as goals from Alessandro Matri, Josip Iličić and Alberto Aquilani epitomised a stylish first-half showing from the visitors. Esbjerg were briefly level through Martin Pušić and created further chances, but an assured tactical display from Fiorentina kept the hosts at bay after the break.
The first half started explosively: Pušić drew an early save from Neto, but Matri trumped him at the other end, controlling a lofted pass and firing into the bottom corner in the ninth minute. Esbjerg did not have long to wait for an equaliser, though, as Jakob Ankersen's cross was deflected into the path of Pušić, with the striker making no mistake.
The pendulum swung again. Davidson Drobo-Ampem's weak clearance was collected by Iličić, and the Slovenia forward curled the ball past Martin Dúbravka on 15 minutes. Entertainment value remained sky-high as Esbjerg then laid siege to the Italian team's goal, Jonas Knudsen and Ankersen both driving narrowly wide. However, with another leveller seemingly looming, Drobo-Ampem brought down Ryder Matos following a Fiorentina counterthrust, enabling Aquilani to slot coolly into the top corner from the spot.
Clearly satisfied with the score, Fiorentina adopted a more defensive approach after the interval. Substitute Mario Gomez's stinging effort was kept out by Dúbravka, while at the other end Neto made a brilliant stop to deny Knudsen a long-range screamer. Jesper Rasmussen threatened late on, but Fiorentina resisted to leave Esbjerg with a mountain to climb.