Hellas Verona fly high at an emotional Bentegodi
With the closure of the Poltrone Est suspended pending further investigation into the racist incident against Brescia, 22,500 filled the Bentegodi on Sunday afternoon as 10th placed Hellas hosted 9th placed Fiorentina.
There is a long-standing “gemellaggio” between fans of Hellas and Fiorentina and the atmosphere pre-match was relaxed as opposing fans mingled together in the damp streets and bars around the stadium.
As kick-off approached, an emotional tribute was paid to Roberto Puliero, a much-loved and respected commentator and poet who had recently died (see the voice of a city). Both sets of fans paid their own tributes, as his unmistakable commentary from the 1980s boomed over the stadium’s public address system. The tributes continued as the match kicked off, a moving testimony to the lasting impression this unique character made on generations of local football fans.
With Fiorentina one place above Hellas in the league table, it was going to be a tough test for the home side. Despite their humiliating defeat to Cagliari before the international break, Fiorentina have a formidable squad, not least in Franck Ribery, returning after a three-match suspension for pushing a match official. On the bench for the Viola, players of the calibre of Chiesa and Boateng, while Pulgar and Castrovilli were suspended.
Verona were without key players of their own, with Veloso and Kumbulla both side-lined through injury. Salvatore Bocchetti returned in defence, while Pessina deputized for Veloso and up front Di Carmine returned following a brief period of enforced “reflection”.
With barely 90 seconds on the clock, Di Carmine was booked following an aerial challenge with Pezzella. Although there seemed to be little malice intended, the Fiorentina captain immediately signalled for a replacement having suffered a nasty injury to his cheek bone.
Verona dominated the early exchanges, creating a number of decent chances, the best of which was a long-distance strike by Verre. At the other end, it wasn’t until 30 minutes that Ribery finally unlocked the Verona defence with a slick reverse pass putting Vlahovic in, but the Serbs shot was well parried by Silvestri.
Early in the second half, Lazovic and Salcedo both came close, but it was Di Carmine who finally made the breakthrough, finishing an impressive Verona attack launched by Amrabat, assisted by Faraoni and with a delightful dummy by Lazarovic on the edge of the box. The Tuscan striker calmly finished from inside the box. His first goal of the campaign.
In the final stages of the match, Verona continued to dominate possession and Fiorentina never really looked like equalising.
Perhaps the best performance and result of the season for Hellas Verona, three points which sees them leapfrog Fiorentina into ninth place.
Next up: Hellas entertain an in-form Roma at the Bentegodi on Sunday night.