FLORENCE, Italy, September 30 – Young playmaker Stevan Jovetic scored a brace as Fiorentina stunned Liverpool 2-0 in Champions League Group E at the Stadio Artemio Franchi here on Tuesday.The Montenegro international twice found the net in a mesmerising first 45 minutes for the hosts before the Viola backline held firm during a nail-biting second half.
The victory moved Fiorentina level on three points with Liverpool and three points behind group leaders Lyon.
If Fiorentina started this match as the underdogs, someone had omitted to tell them and there followed 45 minutes of near domination from the Tuscans, with Jovetic at the centre of almost everything.
Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said his team simply hadn’t turned up in the first half.
"We didn’t play well in the beginning, we had too many problems and made too many mistakes," he said.
"We weren’t doing well, we had to change something and in the second half we were totally different, we played much better.
"In the first half they were on top of us all the time, we weren’t doing the things we had talked about before. We knew it would be difficult but we weren’t doing well, we did badly in everything."
La Viola coach Cesare Prandelli admitted he had never before seen his team play like they did in the first half.
"The first half was probably the best match, or part of a match, of my time here, not least because it was against a great team with great character," he said.
"But we have to work on being a 90-minute team so we can still improve a lot."
On 16 minutes Martin Skrtel blocked his shot away for a corner before the Montenegro star shot wide from distance and then narrowly missed connecting with a driven Adrian Mutu cross-cum-shot.
But on 28 minutes the rampaging hosts deservedly took the lead as Cristiano Zanetti’s pass split a hesitating defence, which seemed to have stopped as Mutu lurked in an offside position, but the Romania captain left the ball and Jovetic ran through to slide home low past Pepe Reina.
With Alberto Gilardino — sent-off against Lyon two weeks ago — suspended, Fiorentina were playing without a recognisable target man but their fluid interplay between Mutu, Jovetic, Juan Vargas and Marco Marchionni in a 4-2-3-1 formation was leading hapless Liverpool a merry dance.
On 31 minutes a Riccardo Montolivo pass out to the left found Vargas behind the exposed Glen Johnson, but with no support he had to shoot from a tight angle and Reina saved.
Moments later Johnson made amends, coming to the rescue to cut out Gianluca Comotto’s cross before it found Jovetic.
But eight minutes before the break Fiorentina added a second as Vargas thrashed a low cross into the box from the left and Jovetic stuck out a leg to divert it past Reina.
Fiorentina goalkeeper Sebastien Frey was a spectator in that first period but Benitez must have dished out the hair-dryer treatment in the changing room because the Merseysiders were a team transformed at the restart.
Frey was soon into the action as Yossi Benayoun got in behind Comotto and forced the Frenchman to save at his near post.
Brazilian midfielder Lucas then headed the resulting corner inches over and Dirk Kuyt forced Frey into a low save with a deflected shot.
The 2005 champions were gradually turning the screw and Massimo Gobbi had to slide in and block a Steven Gerrard volley on 62 minutes.
Fiorentina were holding firm, though, and Liverpool started finding it increasingly difficult to break them down until Skrtel surged forward and crossed for the until then anonymous Fernando Torres, but the Spain striker snatched at his first chance of the game and volleyed over.
Late on Gerrard headed wide from substitute Ryan Babel’s right-wing cross but Fiorentina held on for the win their first-half performance deserved.