Tuscan troopers on the rise from rock bottom

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ACF Fiorentina are on the verge of finally putting six years of pain and hurt behind them.

By defeating Rangers on Thursday in the UEFA Cup they will reach their first European final since 1990 and by matching AC Milan, Sampdoria and Udinese’s results in the final three Serie A games of the season they will qualify for the preliminary round of the Champions League.

It is certainly no more than Italy’s most entertaining side this season deserves.

Back in 2002, the Viola were bankrupt and out of business but out of the depths of division four the renamed Florenta Viola managed to climb back to Serie A in just three years, thanks in part to a double promotion when Serie B was enlarged from 20 to 24 teams, and along the way reclaimed their old name and the ACF prefix.

Just being back in Serie A would have been enough but new owners, the cashmere sweater around the shoulder-wearing brothers Diego and Andrea Delle Valle, bankrolled the arrival of Luca Toni and Sebastien Frey for the 2005-06 campaign where they finished fourth and the Champions League beckoned.

Their, by all accounts, negligible involvement in the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal scuppered any thoughts of Europe and after being initially banished to Serie B they were then hit with a 15-point penalty when they had their top-flight status restored on appeal.

For all its Renaissance beauty and home to art lovers the Florentines are as tough as old boots and even this hurdle was overcome to finish fifth and thus find themselves in Europe at last.

Happy times have returned after rising from depths of division four 

The Delle Vale’s have to be thanked for putting their faith in the saintly Cesare Prandelli who is adored by one and all throughout the world of Italian football.

The 50-year-old is without doubt the most sporting coach around and that sense of fair play has been instilled in his players.

In the first game at a highly-charged Artemio Franchi stadium after the former Juventus midfielder’s wife passed away at the end of November, his players lined-up rugby-union style at the end of the defeat to Inter to applaud their opponents off the pitch and offer their boss their own form of condolences.

So taken were the football league authorities with this gesture that the ‘terzo tempo’ (third half) has since become compulsory at the end of every game.

Then his free-flowing 4-3-3 formation has given Adrian Mutu the freedom to flourish and launched the careers of three of the most exciting talents in European football: Italy pair Riccardo Montolvio and Giampaolo Pazzini along with the Swiss-born Serb international Zdravko Kuzmanovic. 

It has all added up to a wonderful rebirth and a fitting finale to the campaign is now within the Tuscan troopers’ grasp.