Soccer

Fiorentina blanks Juventus in Toronto friendly

Two of the most famous teams in Italian soccer trudged through a passionless exhibition match at a half-empty Rogers Centre in Toronto, with Fiorentina winning 1-0 over Juventus.

Juventus and Fiorentina are bitter rivals, but you'd never know it by their tame encounter Tuesday night in Toronto.

Two of the best teams from Serie A, the Italian first division, trudged their way through an exhibition match before 21,122 spectators at Rogers Centre, with Fiorentina emerging with a 1-0 victory thanks to a goal from Stevan Jovetic in the 17th minute.

"I received the ball, shifted it to the right, took a shot and it went in," Jovetic said of his goal, a 25-yard screamer that beat Juventus goalkeeper Alex Manninger.

This was dubbed an international friendly, but Juventus and Fiorentina took the friendship theme a little too far in a game devoid of tension and drama.

There has always been bad blood between these teams, with the boiling point coming in 1990 when Fiorentina sold Roberto Baggio to Turin-based Juventus. So beloved was the pony-tailed Italian forward that Viola fans rioted in the streets of Florence.

But the rivalry was hardly in evidence on this night. Nothing close to resembling a tackle was made and there was little physical play, as players tried to avoid injury.

Goncalo Brandao didn't succeed. The Juventus defender fell victim to the artificial surface, and was stretchered off the field in the 37th minute with an apparent knee injury after crashing to the ground untouched.

"It's not ideal. We're used to playing on natural grass," Juventus captain Alessandro Del Piero said of the turf.

It was obvious that few of the players wanted to be there. You can hardly blame them, really.

This was the second game in three days for both sides: Juventus lost 3-1 to the hometown New York Red Bulls on Sunday, while Fiorentina battled to a 1-1 draw with the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo.

The Italian season ended nine days ago, and if not for these mini-tours of North America, the players would be at home with their families, or on holidays.

But they weren't. They were in Toronto, dragged across the pond by employers looking for a quick payday.

Imagine how the San Jose Sharks would feel if their owner told them that after being swept out of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Chicago Blackhawks, instead of starting their vacation they would have to fly to Europe for an exhibition series.

"Mentally and physically, we're very tired and drained," Jovetic admitted.

It's all in the timing. Had this been a pre-season game, players would have been going all out, looking to impress the coach and fighting for their jobs. But when an exhibition match takes place soon after the regular season ends, what you'll often get is tired and uninterested players simply going through the motions.

Making matters worse is that both teams arrived on these shores in a foul mood.

Winners of a record 27 Italian league titles, Juventus stumbled to a seventh-place finish in Serie A and failed to qualify for next season's UEFA Champions League — this despite spending big money last summer on new players, including Brazilians Diego and Felipe Melo.

Fiorentina finished 11th in the standings, dropping seven spots from an impressive 2008-09 campaign, and failed to qualify for Europe next season.

Tuesday's game was somewhat bereft of star power. A handful of players —- notably Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus and Fiorentina's Alberto Gilardino — did not make the trip to North America because they are training with their national teams ahead of the World Cup in South Africa.

At least Del Piero, ever the professional, tried to put on show for the fans. Il Capitano flashed his fancy footwork and wizardry on the ball from time to time, and even gave the referee an earful when calls did not go his way.

If only the rest of the players had shown similar passion.

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