ROME, March 8 – There cannot be two sides in the last 16 of the Champions League whose recent form has been more contrasting than Fiorentina and Bayern Munich.
They come together for the second leg at the Artemio Franchi in Italy on Tuesday with Bayern not only up 2-1 from the opening leg but in rude health having usurped Bayer Leverkusen from top spot in the Bundesliga.
Despite conceding an early goal from former striker Lukas Podolski, Bayern fought back to equalise 1-1 against Cologne on Saturday, extending their five-month unbeaten run in the league to 18 games.
Fiorentina, meanwhile, have been in freefall since around the time Adrian Mutu tested positive for a banned substance in late January.
After an impressive opening to their Serie A campaign and particularly in the Champions League group stage where they did the double over Liverpool, the Viola have registered just one win in nine matches – and that a slim 2-1 at home to lowly Livorno.
Fiorentina have been cursed with ill-luck during that time with a string of refereeing decisions going against them – none more blatant than Miroslav Klose’s last-minute winner in Munich three weeks ago.
That night they had matched Bayern for long periods and seemed set to take a deserved draw back to Florence until the assistant referee failed to spot Klose yards offside as he nodded in.
Coach Cesare Prandelli was furious again at the weekend as his side suffered another home defeat, 2-1 against Juventus.
"Diego’s goal was offside every day of the week and there should have been a penalty for the foul on Keirrison," he complained.
"Even if FIFA don’t agree, I still say the use of video evidence is the only fair way to save football."
Currently languishing in 10th position in Serie A, the Tuscan side’s season could well hinge on Tuesday’s second leg result.
"It looks like being the match of the year," added Prandelli.
"I don’t want the team to feel victimised. We need the strength to start all over again."
Although Peruvian Juan Vargas came off against Juventus, he should be fit to take his place on the wing alongside Alberto Gilardino, who has 11 Serie A goals, and exciting Montenegrin Stevan Jovetic, who has already notched three Champions League goals including a double against Liverpool.
While Fiorentina are looking to break new ground by entering the quarter-finals, Bayern have been crowned champions of Europe four times – 1974, 1975, 1976 and 2001.
Louis van Gaal, who led Ajax to European glory against Italian opposition in AC Milan in 1995, has fashioned another competitive Bayern side after recovering from a stuttering start to his reign.
Perhaps most significant of a handsome string of positive results was the 4-1 mauling of Juventus in Turin, which simultaneously booked the German side’s passage to the knockout stage.
"We knew how important that game was for us, because our future in the Champions League depended on it," said Ukrainian midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, who had grabbed the fourth and final goal.
"Everyone is expecting us to win a European trophy now, and with players of this quality we can win any tournament."
Van Gaal has lost defenders Martin Demichelis and Diego Contento through injury but is expected to welcome back the much-coveted Franck Ribery, who will play on one wing with Arjen Robben, so inspirational in the first leg against Fiorentina, flying down the other.
The sides’ most recent meeting came in the group stage last season.
After a 3-0 home victory in Germany, they drew 1-1 in Florence.
A similar result on Tuesday would send the Bavarians into the quarter-finals again.