Watch a dramatic turnaround from the 2016/17 UEFA Europa League on UEFA.tv – but read this first.
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After winning the away leg of their 2016/17 UEFA Europa League round of 32 tie against Borussia Mönchengladbach, Fiorentina seemed to be in the clear. Not so.
Fourth in the Bundesliga in 2015/16, Gladbach came through qualifying to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage. They were no match for Barcelona and Manchester City in Group C, but earned a place in the UEFA Europa League round of 32 by finishing above Celtic, Dieter Hecking replacing André Schubert as coach during the winter.
Fiorentina, meanwhile, had breezed through their UEFA Europa League group. Paulo Sousa's side were not enjoying the best of campaigns in Serie A, but a 1-0 win in the first leg at Gladbach suggested they could be in for happier times in Europe.
• Lars Stindl: Signed from Hannover in 2015, the forward was made club captain for the 2016/17 season after Martin Stranzl retired; his ability to lead from the front was much in evidence in Florence.
• Jonas Hofmann: The midfielder never managed to command a regular first-team place at Dortmund, the club where he came through the ranks, but his presence – and set-piece skills – were much valued at Gladbach.
• Nikola Kalinić: The Croatian striker helped Ukrainian team Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk reach the 2015 UEFA Europa League final, scoring in the 3-2 loss to Sevilla, and had notched 15 Viola goals in all competitions going into the Gladbach decider.
Already 1-0 up from the first leg, the Viola looked to be cruising to the last 16 when Kalinić rounded Gladbach keeper Yann Sommer to give them the lead in Florence, before a blunder in defence invited Borja Valero to make it 2-0. It was hard on the visitors, but some balance was restored when Stindl converted a penalty just before the break.
Still, few saw what was coming next. Stindl stabbed in his second of the night after a goalmouth scramble two minutes into the second half and completed his hat-trick from a smartly worked free-kick on 55 minutes, before defender Andreas Christensen headed Gladbach's fourth a few minutes later. Fiorentina roared back and hit the woodwork, but never quite rallied from what German paper Express called 'The Toscana Frenzy’.
Lars Stindl, Mönchengladbach: "It was amazing. We were shocked to go 2-0 down. In the dressing room, our coach reminded us that we had turned other matches around in the past. For me, it was an unforgettable night and a special match. That match ball has a place of honour in my house."
Dieter Hecking, Mönchengladbach coach: "I can only take my hat off to this team. It helped that we had changed a few things for set pieces. Lars is a top captain and has such a great personality."
Yann Sommer, Mönchengladbach goalkeeper: "We went into half-time pretty much devastated but then came back out and turned it around. It's only just sinking in; perhaps we will go out for a drink later."
Paulo Sousa, Fiorentina coach: "We've lost to a very good team today, a team I wish all the best to. I feel bad for the team first and foremost that we’ve gone out, particularly for the younger players. I apologise to the entire city, who were fully behind us."
Elsewhere that night
An own goal by Harry Kane contributed to Tottenham's exit to Gent following a 2-2 draw at White Hart Lane, while Anderlecht's Isaac Kiese Thelin struck at the death to prevent Zenit from staging a fine comeback – the Russian outfit had lost 2-0 in Belgium but came into the last minute of regulation time leading 3-0. APOEL, meanwhile, enjoyed a great European night, winning 2-0 at home to eliminate Spain’s Athletic Club following a 3-2 first-leg defeat in Bilbao.
Hecking's side witnessed more drama in the next round, but their all-German tie against Schalke was less fun for them. After a 1-1 stalemate in Gelsenkirchen, they led 2-0 at home in the return fixture, only to then draw 2-2 on the night and bow out on away goals. Stindl remains the club’s captain and was part of their UEFA Europa League squad this season.
Capitulation to Gladbach represented a seasonal low point for the Viola, with boss Sousa leaving the club that summer after his contract was not renewed. They have not qualified for Europe since.