Football can be an entirely unfair game at times, something Fiorentina were bitter victims of in an utterly miserable Europa Conference League final against West Ham, Apollo Heyes laments.
The match at the Fortuna Arena in Prague was the perfect exemplification of what the Conference League is: a third tier European competition. If an alien landed on Earth and sat through this game, there’s little chance you’d ever catch them watching 22 men chase a ball around a pitch ever again. More likely, they’d be soaring away to their own universe at light speed.
On the one hand, there was a Fiorentina side built off triangle passing, carefully crafted build-up play but a clear lack of firepower, looking strong in two thirds of the pitch. On the other, an outdated looking West Ham, scrapping for any sniff of a chance without doing much to produce one of their own.
Even the fans disappointed in Prague, with some Fiorentina fans fighting their English counterparts in the streets in the build-up to the match before a number of the West Ham faithful embarrassed themselves by hurling cups and small objects at the Viola players. Again, what an advertisement for football.
For all of the Viola’s tactics and deliberate play, their complete toothlessness in the final third showed why they deservedly missed out on a European spot this season. Vincenzo Italiano’s side allegedly took 17 shots on the night, but it certainly didn’t feel as if Alphonse Areola was under much threat – barring Giacomo Bonaventura’s 67th minute equaliser.
And yet the Hammers – for as little as they’ll care – were nothing short of miserable at the Fortuna Arena, with their only moment of inspiration leading to Jarrod Bowen’s late winner. Their first goal, a Said Benrahma penalty, again sparked the debate regarding the suitability of the latest handball laws in the modern game.
Football may be the beautiful game, but it wasn’t in Prague tonight. Sloppy passes, endless cynical fouls and an obvious lack of quality from both sides left the Conference League final feeling like an end of season formality more than a European cup final. Not that West Ham will care, lifting their first trophy in decades.
Italiano is clearly a smart and talented coach, but all his plans and tactics are worthless when the players at his disposal can’t properly implement them. David Moyes, on the other hand, was like the Tyrannosaurus rex in Jurassic Park – snatched from an older time period, but somehow still having the starring moment at the end of the film.
At the end of the day, West Ham and their fans will celebrate their victory with all the passion and joy in the world, and rightfully so. A European cup is an achievement, third tier or not. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it was a 90-minute odd affair bereft of any of the qualities that make football the most entertaining sport in the world.
And it went from bad to worse for Fiorentina, who barely had time to mourn their Coppa Italia final loss to Inter before a fresh wound was inflicted on them. It’s hard to imagine them in a similar position any time soon, especially if Italiano does ultimately end up filling the Luciano Spalletti shaped void at Napoli, making their inability to punish the Hammers even more frustrating.