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Football: Fiorentina plan appeal against Uefa exclusion

ITALIAN FOOTBALL authorities and supporters were torn between anger and relief after the decision by Uefa's disciplinary committee to disqualify the Serie A club, Fiorentina, from this year's Uefa Cup.

The measure was taken to punish the Florence club for the incident at their match against the Swiss team, Grasshopper Zurich, last week, when a giant firecracker was thrown on to the field, injuring an assistant referee. According to European football's ruling body, Fiorentina were responsible for security, even though the match was held at Salerno, not Florence.

The news of the disqualification came as Fiorentina fans were celebrating having knocked Juventus off the top of the table. Sunday's 4-1 victory over Venezia leaves them heading Serie A with 18 points, with Juventus second on 17. Fiorentina's Argentinian striker Gabriel Batistuta struck twice to take his tally to 10 goals in eight matches.

After hearing the Uefa verdict in Geneva, Fiorentina's general manager, Luciano Luna, claimed that, while the sentence was tough, it recognised a key point - that Fiorentina were the victim of the device, thrown from the stands occupied by Salernitana fans. Had it not been for that extenuating circumstance, Fiorentina could have been banned for several years. In its verdict, though, Uefa referred to precedents of violence by Florentine fans during European matches.

"The sentence is absurd, bitter, heavy, but it won't destroy the desire of Fiorentina for justice, for truth... because it recognises that Fiorentina were the object of the attack. That will be the starting point for the next sentence, the definitive one," read a leading article in the sports newspaper Corriere dello Sport.

Another paper, La Gazzetta dello Sport, under the headline "Florence joy and rage", took a more conciliatory stand. "The innocence of a single episode was not enough to save Fiorentina from being held responsible in the nasty world of thuggery that forms the background to the epidosde at Salerno," said a front-page leader. "An appeal should be supported in every way, but for those who love Fiorentina the nightmare is over".

While there is no historic rivalry between Fiorentina and Salernitana, fans of the teams came to blows during a match in Florence last month which Fiorentina won 4-0. Many feel the incident was part of a desire among the Salerno hooligan element to "get even".

Fiorentina's lawyer, Nino d'Avirro, said: "We can't allow a criminal to win." He also announced that the club's appeal will be made before Thursday and possibly heard next weekend. "It's a problem of objective responsibility," he insisted. "We must prove that [the attack] was something unpredictable, because it was the act of a nutter."