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Fiorentina take control over Slavia Prague with 2-0 win

SoccerNews in Serie A, UEFA Champions League 12 Aug 2008

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Strikers Adrian Mutu and Alberto Gilardino scored as Fiorentina took a big step towards the group stage of the Champions League here on Tuesday with a 2-0 win over Slavia Prague.

Fiorentina's non-conceding of an away goal augured well for the return leg of this third qualifying tie in Prague in two weeks' time.

“The spirit is right. The team responded well, as did the crowd, so I'm satisfied,” Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli told Rai television.

Romania international Mutu set the Stadio Artemio Franchi alight in the third minute when he curled a superb right-footed freekick into the top corner from 30 metres out.

Former AC Milan forward Gilardino, one of several new arrivals making their competitive debuts for the Florence club, put the hosts firmly in charge of the tie in the 57th minute when he headed home after the ball bounced around the penalty area from a corner.

The visitors tried to produce a quick reply to Mutu's opener, but Fiorentina's Danish defender Per Kroldrup, in the starting line-up for the injured Alessandro Gamberini, did well to steal possession from midfielder Dusan Svento at the edge of the penalty area to stop a dangerous move.

The hosts looked comfortable on the ball and the Czech title-holders, who knocked out Ajax in the preliminaries to make their debut appearance in the Champions League group stage last season, struggled to pose a threat.

Slavia defender Martin Latka had to climb high on the half hour mark to prevent a Zdravko Kuzmanovic cross finding the head of Gilardino, who was ready to pounce close to goal.

Serb midfielder Kuzmanovic came close with a powerful long-distance shot shortly after and Gilardino failed to take advantage of three inviting crosses into the penalty box as the Serie A side pressed hard towards the end of the first half.

Fiorentina, returning to the Champions League after an absence of over eight years, kept up the pressure after the break and Slavia keeper Martin Vaniak needed to make a fine save to repel a powerful freekick from Peruvian full back Juan Manuel Vargas.

Just as the Czechs showed some signs of coming into the match, Gilardino made up for his earlier mistakes with a goal, although television replays suggested there was a suspicion of offside.

Vaniak stopped his side falling three goals behind on several occasions, stopping two close-range shots in quick succession from Gilardino and Pablo Osvaldo, scooping a Mutu corner off the line and smothering the ball at the end of a goalmouth scramble.

Prandelli added: “We need (the two weeks of training before the second leg) because, as could be seen, we aren't continuously sharp yet. But we were also quite tidy today.”

Prandelli expressed his faith in Gilardino, who is trying to regain his best form and his place in the Italian national team after a couple of unimpressive seasons at Milan.

“There are no doubts about Gilardino,” Prandelli said of the striker, who had previously played under him during a stint together at Parma. “He is a serious lad who has always had a sense of goal.”

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