Fiorentina: Are Viola the Champions League's Dark Horses?

Ollie TaylorContributor IDecember 18, 2009

FLORENCE, ITALY - AUGUST 26:  Stevan Jovetic of Fiorentina scores a goal during the UEFA Champions League qualifier second leg match between Fiorentina and Sporting Lisbon at Artemio Franchi stadium on August 26, 2009 in Florence, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

December 9th 2009: Fiorentina have just come back from behind to beat Liverpool 2-1 and advance to the Champions League knockout stages as group winners. As the Italian side leave the pitch, the Kop rises to applaud them as they depart. Lightning had indeed struck twice.

Fiorentina's European venture was secured when Gigliati (The Lilies) finished fourth in Serie A. Viola were to have another crack at the Champions League after being eliminated in the group stage last season, finishing third to German giants Bayern and then French champions Lyon.

After navigating past Sporting CP in the Playoff Phase, Fiorentina found themselves drawn with Lyon once again, along with Liverpool and Debrecen.

Many pundits expected Fiorentina to fight for the second spot with Lyon, but with Viola getting a shock win at home to group favourites Liverpool, a win at home to Lyon and two wins against the groups potential banana skin Debrecen, Fiorentina were through before even kicking a ball at Anfield.

The build-up to that night at Anfield ignored Fiorentina. The talk was of Liverpool's Alberto Aquilani finally making his Liverpool debut, but in truth Aquilani's presence was overshadowed by another Alberto, man of the match Alberto Gilardino, who scored the winner in Viola's 2-1 win.

The win sets up a clash with another of last season's European rivals, Bayern Munich, in the knockout stage. In truth the draw could perhaps have been kinder given Fiorentina's seeding, but it could have been much worse.

That said, Fiorentina have absolutely no reason to fear the Bavarian side. In Stevan Jovetic they have one of the stars of the Champions League so far. The young forward, a native of Montenegro, scored both goals in the home victory over Liverpool and has caught the eye of a host of top European clubs.

Elsewhere, Juan Manuel Vargas has established himself as one of the most effective left sided players around, and on the other flank Marco Marchionni has had a good season.

Gilardino has given fans plenty of reasons to highlight him as a key man, and his strike partner Adrian Mutu certainly doesn't play like a man plagued by the ghosts of his past.

In goal, Sebastien Frey has been in top form this season and is putting a lot of pressure on Raymond Domenech to include him in the France squad for the upcoming World Cup.

In front of him, Alessandro Gamberini has forged a strong defensive partnership with Dario Dainelli, and Cristiano Zanetti provides them with plenty of protection in the anchor man role.

Viola are a team to fear as the Champions League moves into the knock-out phase. Bayern Munich could quite conceivable learn the hard way, just as Liverpool did twice this year. If Bayern fall, the giants of Europe may well find themselves hoping to avoid facing the famous purple colours of Fiorentina.