Fiorentina 2 Everton 0
Everton had no answer to two pedigree second-half goals as they went down 2-0 away to Fiorentina in the first leg of their last-16 UEFA Cup tie tonight.
After a first half in which Everton were off the pace – and doubtless relieved to still be level – Zdravko Kuzmanovic and then Riccardo Montolivo each produced a memorable finish to confirm the Italians’ superiority.
It was harsh on Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard, who had come to his team’s rescue with a succession of outstanding saves – but otherwise the Toffees got their just deserts.
David Moyes selected the same team which beat Portsmouth 3-1 in the Barclays Premier League on Sunday – but influential midfielder Mikel Arteta was on the bench after recent problems with a groin injury.
Left-back Manuel Pasqual was a regular attacking threat, and it was from his ball in that veteran striker Christian Vieri had the first significant shot on goal which flashed just wide of Howard’s near post.
Everton were seeing precious little of the ball but in the 10th minute Ayegbeni Yakubu gave the Italians a warning with a 40-yard run before losing control just as the shot looked on.
Just after the 20-minute mark Howard came bravely to Everton’s rescue with a punch clear as the attackers queued up for headers, from Tomas Ujfalusi’s cross from the right.
Pasqual was required at the back when Joleon Lescott put in a searching cross from the left – and the defender duly completed his day job by heading confidently behind for a corner which came to nothing.
Lee Carsley’s tackle on Kuzmanovic resulted in a free-kick in the 33rd minute, but Pasqual’s left-foot shot from 25 yards hit the wall.
Yakubu received a yellow card as he pounced on a misplaced back-pass to Sebastian Frey – only to foul the goalkeeper in doing so.
Tempers began to fray on and off the pitch as half-time approached, Steven Pienaar and Ujfalusi booked – and Moyes voicing his general displeasure from the dugout.
Howard had to produce a fine reaction save to keep his team level in the 42nd minute when a flick-on by Osvaldo gave Vieri the chance to shoot from the edge of the six-yard box.
After Everton had started the second half with a little more purpose, there was a rude awakening when Montolivo’s right-foot shot from 30 yards needed Howard to be alert again low down at his near post.
Moyes decided Everton needed something extra – and despite concerns about his fitness, Arteta came on for Osman after 55 minutes.
Frey twice had to punch clear under pressure in the same passage of play as Everton began to pump balls into the box from deep.
But just before the hour mark, Howard had to be at his best twice in the space of a minute as first Vieri from the edge of the area and then Kuzmanovic – after Everton had failed to clear effectively – each brought out a sharp save.
Moyes’ men were getting more into the game and Fiorentina brought on young striker Giampaolo Pazzini for Vieri in the 68th minute as they tried to re-establish their attacking superiority.
Barely a minute later, the hosts were finally in front.
Everton again failed to clear properly, and Kuzmanovic’s right-foot shot from 20 yards was struck and placed well enough to beat Howard at last and give Fiorentina a deserved lead.
Moyes’ introduction of Arteta was a bold move – and at 1-0 down with 18 minutes to go, he gambled again by bringing Andrew Johnson on for Tony Hibbert.
Fiorentina, meanwhile, appeared happy to have finally got their noses in front - and the pragmatic response of their coach Cesare Prandelli was to replace striker Osvaldo with midfielder Mario Alberto Santana.
But the hosts doubled their lead with a wonderfully-executed goal in the 82nd minute.
Santana worked room on the right to push the ball into the area; Martin Jorgensen’s deft flick gave Montolivo room for a first-time volley – and he buried it past Howard’s unavailing dive from 18 yards.
It could have been much worse for Everton when, as they pushed forward, they left themselves exposed at the back.
Santana pounced but perhaps tried to be a little too clever, with only Howard to beat, shooting with the outside of his right foot just beyond the far post.