The elegant Palazzo Vecchio in Florence played host to a swathe of footballing dignitaries including Michael Platini on Wednesday at a ceremony staged to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of one of his predecessors as UEFA President, Dr Artemio Franchi.
A spectacular backdrop of frescoes painted by Vasari and statues sculpted by Michelangelo formed the setting for a ceremony staged to mark the life and work of Dr Franchi, who died in a car accident in 1983. Numerous distinguished figures in the world of football gathered in the sumptuous sanctuary of the Sala del 500 to listen as the mayor of the city, Leonardo Domenici, paid tribute to one of the Florence's most famous sons.
Franz Beckenbauer, Marcello Lippi, Pierluigi Collina and Giovanni Cobolli Gigli were among the guests who listened to further tributes from Mr Platini, Fiorentina president Andrea Della Valle, Italian Football Federation president Giancarlo Abete and Dr Artemio's son Francesco Franchi. All spoke of the meaningful work of the man who gave his name to the city's stadium – which filled to capacity later in the evening for Barcelona's 3-1 triumph against Fiorentina.
Once the speeches had concluded, Mr Platini, along with Dr Franchi's daughter, Giovanna, unveiled a plaque, which will take pride of place at the stadium, to commemorate the man who did so much to promote the values of fair play and solidarity in football, and to record the visit of Barcelona for this memorial match. As Abete pointed out: "Sport is about competition but, more importantly, it is about values without which football cannot exist."
Later in the evening, 40,428 spectators applauded as Francesco Franchi led out both teams from the tunnel. With temperatures reaching 34C, some feared the match would be little more than a friendly played at walking pace. However, both sides took to their tasks with determination and the crowd were especially fortunate to witness a virtuoso performance by Lionel Messi.
Initially playing as the spearhead of a 4-3-2-1 formation before moving to the right of Bojan Krkić in a 4-3-3, Messi's pace and mesmerising skills caused Fiorentina constant headaches. The Barça playmaker drew a superb save from Sebastien Frey on 27 minutes, was twice hauled down on the edge of the area and started a move from which Xavi Hernández hit the bar. Frey also kept out a powerful Yaya Touré header on the half-hour mark as the visitors' quick passing forced the hosts onto the back foot.
By then though Barcelona had already taken the lead, Messi floating a clever cross to the far post where Gerard Piqué teed up Carles Puyol from close range. A minute after the restart Seydou Keita surged through the midfield and played in Jeffren Suárez, who doubled the lead. After running 50 metres and cutting in from the right, Messi fired just wide. The Viola pulled a goal back, shortly after Messi had left to a standing ovation, when Giampaolo Pazzini beat the offside trap to score, but Barcelona soon made it 3-1, through Bojan.
Fiorentina will hope to have improved their fitness levels in a fortnight's time for the first leg of their UEFA Champions League third qualifying round tie which their coach Cesare Prandelli describes as "the most important matches of the season". At least, though, they can take heart from promising performances from Stevan Jovetić, Alberto Gilardino and Pazzini. The day, though, belonged to two men: Dr Artemio Franchi, whose life's work was remembered, and Messi, who is leaving a whole new legacy of his own.
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