Fiorentina coach hails historic qualification

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The Independent Football

Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli was yesterday morning reflecting on the greatest achievement of his career after guiding the club into the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time in their history.

A Juan Vargas penalty in the 28th minute last night was enough to sink Lyon and see the Viola successfully navigate their way through the group stages, joining the French team in the knockout phase and condemning Liverpool to the Europa League.

Asked whether the feat was the biggest of his career, Prandelli said: "At this moment I think so, even though we have ended the season in the top four. It is clear that you always work to improve. We wanted to make history. Perhaps we have started to make history, but I would like to start writing the story from today. There was anxiety and tension, but I tried to explain that it is always a football game – the things they do in the league they can do at this level."

A sell-out crowd of over 35,000 witnessed Fiorentina's historic achievement as they also became the first Italian representatives to qualify for the knockout round this year.

Vargas added: "It is a well-deserved qualification and it is a great night. We are happy to have experienced it together with our fans. It is important for us to have played so well. We hope to continue. Compared to the previous Champions League campaigns, it is a different situation. We worked more serenely and we know we have reached an important milestone."

Prandelli also thinks there is more to come from his side. "This qualification represents something huge," he said. "This game has given us the confidence to be challengers at a European level. I am satisfied but I like to think you can always do better."

The Florence club, who can keep top spot in Group E with a second win over Liverpool next month, last got out of the first group stage in 1999 when Argentina striker Gabriel Batistuta was in his prime.

Bankruptcy and relegation followed before a Florentine renaissance bankrolled by the Della Valle family, although their commitment to the club was questioned in September when Andrea nominally quit as president after becoming disillusioned.

Further Champions League success could again whet their appetite, especially given that Fiorentina won on Tuesday without Adrian Mutu, hot young prospect Stevan Jovetic and top defender Alessandro Gamberini.

Italian media hailed their progression and talked up Prandelli as a future Italy boss, while European underachievers Inter Milan were again lamented for a weak 2-0 loss at Barcelona, which complicates their hopes of reaching the last 16.