After a 1-1 first-leg draw in Turin in their UEFA Europa League round of 16 tie against final hosts Juventus, ACF Fiorentina face what coach Vincenzo Montella calls "the most important match of the season" as they look to avenge defeat in the 1990 UEFA Cup final.
The all-Serie A clash has caught the continent's imagination, and has also underlined the fact Fiorentina's horizons have risen considerably in recent seasons. "In previous years we haven't had a lot of chances to win trophies, but now we have a different mindset," captain Manuel Pasqual explained. "Now we are playing better football, there is a calmness in our approach. We are glad to have come this far."
Italian league leaders Juventus represent daunting opponents regardless of the nominal advantage Mario Gomez's equaliser last week secured for the Viola. "The 1-1 from Turin is a good result, but a lot of Florentines think the job is done," added the 32-year-old left-back. "Far from it. Juventus are a very strong team and Andrea Pirlo is their key man. We'll try to stay in contention, of course, and I will be quite satisfied if the match finishes 0-0."
Nor is coach Montella under any illusion about the challenge ahead. "We are facing another match of the highest calibre against a formidable opponent," the former striker said. "I could say this is the most important match of the season for us.
"We'll try to contain them and get a good result," he added. "Expectations are high, but no matter what people might think, this is not the final before the final – there's still a long way to go."
Juventus may have the luxury of a 14-point cushion at the Serie A summit – fully 27 points clear of fourth-placed Fiorentina – yet they are not anticipating an easy ride on Thursday. "Fiorentina have a very good team and it is difficult to single out just one player," said coach Antonio Conte. "We have a lot of respect for them. In recent matches between the sides we have usually dominated the first 70 minutes and then suffered in the last 20."
Gianluigi Buffon, a veteran of European competition, is still waiting to lift his first continental trophy with the Bianconeri. "We are eager to prove ourselves again in this competition," said the Italy goalkeeper. "Every game is a new test of character. We always strive for the best and hopefully we'll prevail. Both teams are hoping to win and nobody wants to be eliminated."
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