Hearts v Fiorentina has the makings of special night in Gorgie - atmosphere, Celtic comparison, no Catenaccio

At around 7.15pm on Thursday evening in Gorgie a short pilgrimage will be undertaken by a horde of Hearts fans. From the meeting place of the Shandon pub on Slateford Road to Tynecastle Park. An 800 metre walk, complete with flags, colour and plenty of noise, towards Fiorentina and one of the club’s biggest European home nights.

Such evenings have come around far too infrequently for the supporters and the club. It makes this one all the more special and one which should be soaked up and enjoyed. A revered Serie A team under the lights at Tynecastle, it has the makings of being truly memorable and an occasion which makes those midweek defeats in Perth or treks to Dingwall all worth it.

A generation of fans witnessed the thumping 5-1 win against Lokomotive Leipzig in 1976, overturning a 2-0 first-leg defeat. Another saw the might of Bayern Munich defeated 1-0 in the 1989 UEFA Cup quarter-final first-leg, in an atmosphere widely regarded as the finest the old ground ever heard, and then Atletico Madrid downed four years later.

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Stuttgart, Bordeaux and even FC Zurich all threatened to enter such a deprived list. Braga, taking place at Murrayfield, was different.

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A generation of supporters continue the wait to live through their European night, one which will be etched into the fabric of the club for fans yet born to learn all about.

The Tynecastle atmosphere

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Those very supporters are making a concerted effort to play their part in what could be a famous night.

The sold-out sign has been a common sight at Tynecastle this season but the atmosphere is one which has been a hot topic amongst fans following a subdued feel to consecutive defeats to İstanbul Başakşehir and Rangers. Discussions have been held with club officials on how to improve the atmosphere which, on its day, is regarded as one of the best in Scotland.

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EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 05: Fiorentina's Nicolás González during a Fiorentina press conference at Tynecastle, on October 05, 2022, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

UEFA noted in their review of the Europa League the part the Ibrox factor played in Rangers’ run to the final. The Hearts support and Tynecastle Park have the capacity to do similar. A din, a bear pit, an intimidating arena where no opponent is respected and no opponent is feared.

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"I always believe it works both ways,” manager Robbie Neilson said. “The players have to bring energy to the stadium and the fans bring energy to the pitch.

"Under the floodlights in a European game, I think it will be working both ways. It will be a great atmosphere. We know we have to bring energy and workrate. I think it will be an excellent game.”

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No more Catenaccio

Andy Halliday has a a self-confessed soft spot for AC Milan. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)
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When it comes to on-field matters there will be respect. But for that energy to be transmitted from the pitch to the stands there can’t be any fear. Hearts won’t be facing a team who fit into the Italian football stereotype of stuffy, conservative and Catenaccio. Fiorentina, who will be wearing their changed white kit rather than their famous purple, are a team who dominate the ball. No side in Serie A averages more possession. Yet, only the bottom two have scored fewer despite their attacking intentions, a key reason for their mid-table position.

"Italian football has changed quite a bit over the last number of years,” Neilson said. “It has gone from Catenaccio sitting in and defending to real all-out pressing and aggression. It's really exciting to watch.

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"We have to respect a Serie A team coming to Tynecastle but we also have to believe we can take the game to them.

"I believe that here, with 20,000 fans behind us under the floodlights, we have to take the game to the opposition. But we also have to be mindful of the real quality they have in their team.”

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Fiorentina are the third Serie A side to arrive at Tynecastle Park for a European match after Inter Milan and Bologna, who were the last in 1990.

It marks another staging post in “how far we have come as a football club since I’ve been here”, noted Andy Halliday.

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Serie A memories

The midfielder, who addressed the assembled media in the manner of a gregarious Brit landing on the Italian peninsula with a “buongiorno” welcome, perhaps knows better than any how “massive” an occasion it is for Hearts.

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Halliday is a player who constantly provides astute insight and analysis, even more so as a huge fan of Italian football. Like many around his age, he has memories of Channel 4, Gabriel Batistuta, the teams, the stadia and the strips. It is for that reason there has been such interest amongst fans to travel to Florence, to see Hearts in the Stadio Artemio Franchi and why Thursday’s match has added prestige and importance.

“I don’t want to disappoint any Fiorentina fans but it was always AC Milan for me," Halliday, who visited Florence in the summer, revealed.

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“The kit, some of the legends they had, that millennial team and the 2010s after that, they had some fantastic teams.

“Serie A has always been an amazing league, even now you look at Fiorentina and they are one of the massive clubs, so it will be great to play against them.”

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Celtic comparison

A challenging but enriching experience on the European stage are the different challenges but Halliday can see similarities between Fiorentina and a certain Scottish Premiership side.

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“They are a very brave team in possession, they try to play out from the back, they use their defensive midfielder to advance up the pitch," he said. “But out of possession they press really high. Quite a lot of the goals they have conceded have been balls over the top and in behind.

“I think they play a little similar to Celtic in that they press high, play to a high intensity and I think it works very well for them at times. But when you don’t get it right it does leave weaknesses.

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“If they leave areas for us to try and expose we’ll do that, but we know we’ll need to play well to get anything from the game.”

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