Football: Batistuta to the rescue

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The Independent Online
Barcelona 1 Fiorentina 1

A moment of inspiration from the Argentine striker, Gabriel Batistuta, ensured a well-deserved draw for Fiorentina in last European Cup-Winners' Cup semi final first leg in Spain.

The Italians looked to be heading for a 1-0 defeat after Miguel Angel Nadal had headed Barcelona infront just before the break. But Batistuta pounced after controlling the ball superbly on the edge of the area, giving the Barcelona goalkeeper, Vitor Baia, no chance with a fiercely-struck shot.

There was some good news for Barcelona, however. Both Batistuta and Giulio Falcone will miss the return leg after picking up yellow cards.

Barcelona, who travel to Florence on 24 April for the second leg, mounted several attacks in the early stages. Roger Garcia's shot from the edge of the area was tipped over the bar by the Fiorentina goalkeeper, Francesco Toldo.

Barcelona's Bulgarian striker Hristo Stoickhov, who made frequent if unlikely scoring attempts throughout the match, penetrated Fiorentina's defence moments later but lost control of the ball.

Batistuta had the first of several scoring opportunities from a cross from Michele Serena, but the Argentine's header went wide. Then Stoickhov's 19th-minute free-kick got around the Fiorentina wall but was blocked by Toldo.

Fiorentina, currently ninth in the Italian League and the underdogs at Barcelona's Nou Camp stadium, concentrated on the strategy announced in advance by their coach, Claudio Ranieri, to focus on defence against the top scorers this season in the Spanish League.

Ronaldo had only a couple of serious opportunities, including a break through the Fiorentina defence late in the first half which ended with a weakly hit shot.

Barcelona eventually managed to break through in the 42nd minute, though, when Nadal headed in a rebound from a free-kick. Fiorentina mounted several attacks early in the second half and Batistuta evened the score in the 62nd minute with his superb strike.

Luis Figo and Guillermo Amor had chances to put Barcelona back in front but Fiorentina hung on. They had been without several key players, including the suspended Swedish midfielder Stefan Schwarz and another former Premiership player, Andrei Kanchelskis, who was ineligible.

Barcelona: Vitor Baia; Ferrer, Fernando Couto, Nadal, R Garcia, Popescu, Figo, Giovanni, Amor, Stoichkov (Pizzi, 75), Ronaldo.

Fiorentina: Toldo; Falcone, Serena, Cois, Amoruso, Padalino, Pusceddu, Robbiati, Batistuta, Rui Costa, Oliveira.