Club Brugge 1-1 (agg 3-4) Fiorentina: Lucas Beltrán fires Fiorentina into the UEFA Europa Conference League final

ACF Fiorentina will play either Olympiacos or Aston Villa in the final of the 2023/24 UEFA Europa Conference League final after a 1-1 away day draw with Club Brugge at the Jan Breydel Stadium saw the Italian side progress as 3-4 aggregate winners. Ultimately, Lucas Beltrán’s 85th-minute penalty was enough for Fiorentina to progress through to a second successive final in the competition.

As it happened

On course for a second successive appearance in a UEFA Europa Conference League final, Fiorentina saw the first sight of goal after a period of inactivity throughout the opening quarter-hour as Rolando Mandragora fired a fierce effort into the stands behind Simon Mignolet’s goal.

However, at the opposite end would be where the deadlock was broken in the 20th minute as the returning Maxim De Cuyper, restored to Brugge’s starting eleven in place of the injured Bjorn Meijer, got the slightest of touches to Hans Vanaken’s dangerous delivery in the six-yard area that allowed the defender to guide the ball past Pietro Terracciano.

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Fiorentina nearly then got themselves back on level terms almost immediately from the restart, as hosts’ keeper Mignolet remained well-positioned in his area to ultimately emerge victorious in his one-on-one battle with Nicolás González before then reacting responsively to redirect Andrea Belotti’s rebound out for a corner.

Brugge’s Brentford-bound Brazilian baller Igor Thiago then spurned a glorious opportunity to double his side’s lead, as instead of taking on his shot for himself, his unselfish decision to square the ball to a fast-arriving teammate allowed the retreating Dodô to get back to extinguish the danger.

The all-action atmosphere continued on the approach to half-time as Christian Kouamé’s thunderously-struck volley beat Mignolet all ends up but agonisingly struck the underside of the crossbar before falling millimetres the wrong side of the goal line.

With everything now to play for after wiping out their aggregate deficit within the opening 45 minutes, Brugge should have been wheeling away celebrating not only doubling their lead on the night but also the overall lead in the tie. However, this would not be the case as former Fulham player Denis Odoi inexplicably mistimed his header in front of goal when it appeared a simple task to at least direct his effort on target.

After netting a dramatic late-winner in Florence, M’Bala Nzola was summoned from the bench by Fiorentina manager Vincenzo Italiano in the hope of a carbon copy of his 1st leg heroics. Nonetheless, two of the substitute’s teammates came close to giving the Italians what they were so determinedly searching for.

First, captain Cristiano Biraghi struck the bar with a fearsome free-kick before Kouamé hit the woodwork again with an authoritative header. Somewhat unsurprisingly Italiano’s side’s relentless presence in and around the final third paid dividends with only five minutes left of regular time as Beltrán confidently converted the resulting spot-kick – after Brandon Mechele was penalised for a high boot into Nzola’s head – to fire the visitors into the final in Athens at the end of the month.

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The lineups

CBR: Mignolet; Odoi, Ordóñez, Mechele; Vetlesen, De Cuyper, Sabbe, Vanaken; Jutglà, Skóraś, Thiago

FIO: Terracciano; Dodô, Quarta, Milenković, Biraghi; Melo, Mandragora, Beltrán; González, Belotti, Kouamé