Such evenings have happened far too rarely for the fans and the club. That makes it all the more special and should be sucked up and savored. As a revered Serie A team under the Tynecastle lights, they have what it takes to be truly memorable and an opportunity that will make those midweek defeats in Perth or the treks to Dingwall all worth it.
A generation of fans witnessed the smashing 5-1 win over Lokomotiv Leipzig in 1976, which reversed a 2-0 first-leg defeat. Another witnessed Bayern Munich’s 1-0 defeat in the 1989 UEFA Cup quarter-final first leg in an atmosphere widely considered the best the old arena had ever experienced, and then four years later the defeat of Atletico Madrid .
Stuttgart, Bordeaux and even FC Zurich all threatened to be included on such a losers list. Braga, held at Murrayfield, was different.
A generation of fans continues to wait to experience their European night, one that will be engraved in the very fabric of the club for fans not yet born to know all about.
The Tynecastle atmosphere
These same supporters are making a concerted effort to do their part for what could be a famous night.
The sold-out sign has been a common sight at Tynecastle this season, but the atmosphere is one that has been a hot topic among fans after muted losses to İstanbul Başakşehir and Rangers. Discussions were held with club officials on how to improve what is considered one of the best atmospheres in Scotland at the time.
UEFA highlighted the role of the Ibrox factor in Rangers’ progression to the final in its Europa League review. Hearts support and Tynecastle Park have an opportunity to do similar things. A noise, a bear pit, an intimidating arena where no opponent is respected and no opponent is feared.
“I always think it works both ways,” said manager Robbie Neilson. “The players have to bring energy to the stadium and the fans have to bring energy to the field.
“Under the floodlights in a European game, I think it will work both ways. It will be a great atmosphere. We know that we have to bring energy and work pace. I think it’s going to be an excellent game.”
No more catenaccio
When it comes to matters on the field, there will be respect. But there is no need to worry that this energy is transferred from the field to the stands. Hearts will not play against a team that fits the Italian football stereotype of stuffy, conservative and catenaccio. Fiorentina, who will wear their new white kit instead of their famous purple, is a side that dominates the ball. No team in Serie A has more possession of the ball on average. However, only the bottom two have scored fewer goals despite their attacking intentions, which is a key reason for their position in midfield.
“Italian football has changed quite a bit in recent years,” said Neilson. “From catenaccio sitting in and defending to real pressing and aggression. It’s really exciting to watch.
“We have to respect a Serie A team that comes to Tynecastle, but we also have to believe that we can bring the game to them.
“I think that with 20,000 fans behind us under floodlights, we have to bring the game to the opponent. But we also have to look at the real quality they have in their team.”
Fiorentina are the third Serie A team to come to Tynecastle Park for a European Cup match, after Inter Milan and Bologna, who were the last in 1990.
It marks another stop in “how far we’ve come as a football club since I’ve been here,” remarked Andy Halliday.
Memories of Serie A
The midfielder, who addressed the assembled media like a gregarious Brit landing on the Italian peninsula with a “buongiorno” welcome, knows perhaps better than anyone how “massive” an event is for Hearts.
Halliday is a player who constantly provides astute insight and analysis, even more so than a huge fan of Italian football. Like many his age, he has memories of Channel 4, Gabriel Batistuta, the teams, the stadiums and the strips. This is why there is such an interest among fans to travel to Florence to see Hearts at the Stadio Artemio Franchi and why Thursday’s game gained prestige and importance.
“I don’t want to disappoint any Fiorentina fans, but for me it’s always been AC Milan,” revealed Halliday, who visited Fiorentina in the summer.
“The kit, some of the legends that they had, that millennial team and the 2010s after that, they had some amazing teams.
“Serie A has always been an amazing league even now if you look at Fiorentina and they are one of the biggest clubs so it will be great to play against them.”
A challenging but rewarding experience on the European stage is the varied challenges, but Halliday can see similarities between Fiorentina and a particular Scottish Premiership side.
“They are a very brave side in possession, they try to play from behind, they use their defensive midfielder to get up the pitch,” he said. “But outside of possession, they press very high. Quite a lot of goals They have acknowledged playing balls over the top and into the back.
“I think they play a bit similar to Celtic in that they press high, play with high intensity and I think it works really well for them at times. But if you don’t do it right, it leaves weaknesses.
“If they leave areas where we can try to unmask them, we will, but we know we have to play well to get something out of the game.”
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