Anyone who knows Florence will understand exactly how special it would be for the only football team in the city – their beloved Fiorentina – to win a trophy. That notion prompted their legendary striker Gabriel Batistuta to admit he “would rather have won one title with a team like Fiorentina than 10 with a team like Manchester United.” That’s how much it means to those from the Renaissance city.
There had been riots in the streets due to the sale of Roberto Baggio to most hated rivals Juventus back in 1990, and the side suffered relegation to Serie B in 1993, yet supporters would see an upturn in fortunes after those unfortunate events. Along with his deadly accuracy, powerful shot, and ability to score goals from any number of situations, Gabriel Batistuta demonstrated loyalty as another of his qualities as a footballer, opting to remain with the club in Serie B in order to help them regain their top-flight status.
Well-respected coach Claudio Ranieri was brought in to oversee their return, a move that allayed supporters’ fears that they would be stuck in the second tier, and indeed he achieved his brief at the first time of trying. Of course, the boss was helped in winning over the fans with the charisma and goals of star player Batistuta, but there was more than that side than just the Argentine No. 9.
Ranieri had brought 22-year-old former AC Milan youth product Francesco Toldo to prominence, a move that saw the Viola enjoy an eight-year spell with the talented goalkeeper in the first team. Promotion that year saw the whole city breathe a huge sigh of relief, but the best was yet to come.
In 1995-96, the Tuscans went on a 15-match unbeaten league run between November and March that saw them sitting in second place in Serie A behind leaders Milan. However, defeats in the final stretch of the domestic campaign saw them eventually finish in fourth. That disappointment was minimal, however, thanks to a brilliant Coppa Italia campaign that year.
Fiorentina entered the competition in the second round, pitted away to Ascoli, a tie which they won 2-1. Batistuta had to wait until the third round to find his first goal, his strike one of five – in addition to one from partner Rui Costa, a brace from Francesco Baiano, and the last from Anselmo Robbiati – in a win away at Lecce to nil.
Another away tie faced the Viola in the quarter-final but that did not phase them. An opening goal from Baiano and a beautifully skilled strike from Rui Costa saw Fiorentina move into the semifinal with a 2-1 victory where they would face a tougher test in a two-legged fixture versus Inter.
It was Batistuta’s moment to shine.
In front of a packed-out Stadio Artemio Franchi, Fiorentina took the lead thanks to a typical power penalty converted by the star No. 9. The second was netted right in front of the Curva Fiesole, Batistuta converting from an impossibly tight angle with his right foot where so many would have simply fired straight at the goalkeeper. He completed his hat-trick when a long ball over the top saw him beat the offside trap and put himself in a one-on-one situation with Nerazzurri stopper Gianluca Pagliuca, and there was only ever going to be one winner.
The final scoreline read 3-1, and “Batigol” added insult to injury with a goal in the second leg at San Siro to make a final aggregate score of 4-1, one that secured Fiorentina’s place in the final versus Atalanta. Supporters had waited a long time for success in the Coppa Italia, the last time their beloved Viola had lifted it back in 1974-75, a time which many of the younger generation would not even remember.
Again, the first leg was in Florence, and Batistuta made the difference as his side sneaked an advantage with a 1-0 victory. Sixteen days later, the team traveled to Bergamo for the second leg, the format of the competition different to the current procedure of a one-off match in Rome. This time it would be an audacious strike from Lorenzo Amoruso which opened the scoring, only for Bati to make it two-nil just after the hour, with La Dea unable to make any kind of response.
⚽️💜🏆 Gol in finale di Coppa Italia 1996 Atalanta - Fiorentina 0-2 @acffiorentina @ViolaNewsOnly #Fiorentina #acffiorentina #Viola #timcup #CoppaItalia #atalantafiorentina #GoalOfTheDay #gol pic.twitter.com/oSxUDbHtXr— Lorenzo Amoruso (@Lamoruso71) March 18, 2018
The Coppa Italia trophy was finally theirs. The excitement had reached fever pitch in Florence, no fewer than 40,000 fans gathered in the city center to welcome them. Those crazy scenes must have been truly unforgettable for all those fortunate enough to witness them.
With this beautifully colorful episode in mind, one could only imagine what would happen if they managed to break the recent dominance of Juventus to lift the Italian Cup once again this season.