Empoli have been threatening to mount a challenge on Serie B all season and this week saw them realise this as they tore apart their Tuscan rivals and more notably the league leaders Siena.
Empoli are a small town club from Tuscany, the town lies on the train line from Pisa to Florence and is a cross roads to Siena. With a population of only 47,000 people it is no surprise that Empoli’s footballing history is not as illustrious as the Florentines down the road, however, that is not to say they have not had their ups and downs. Empoli were almost unknown until their first promotion to Serie B in the 1980s but progressed quickly and to everyone’s surprise they reached Serie A in 1986. That season was a magical one for the fans, as not only did this little club fight hard and stay up, but they also beat Inter 1-0 on the opening day of the season. Despite a good season the following year they received a five point penalty and were sent back to Serie B. They remained relatively quiet until 2002 when they once again came up to Serie A, but unfortunately went straight back down. A return again in 2005 saw them manage to secure an unbelievable 10th place and the next year due to the match fixing scandal they even qualified for the UEFA Cup, but as fate had it they would not even be allowed to enter as they had not applied for a UEFA License. Empoli’s UEFA Cup dream was not over as the following year they qualified again, and although they lost 4-2 on aggregate to FC Zurich they still had reason to be proud. Relegation was unfortunately not far behind, as is so often the case in football the feeling of euphoria is often followed by a heart wrenching follow up.
Last season Empoli started well but did not have the stamina to keep going to the end and finished in a disappointing 10th place, this season, with Alfredo Aglietti in charge, the team are hoping for a push towards Serie A. Empoli started the campaign well with a good opening day away victory beating Frosinone 3-2 in an exciting game. The next two games were not as thrilling; Empoli drew 0-0, first with Pescara at home and then with new boys Varese away. The draws kept coming and 1-1 at Triestina was followed by 0-0 at Ascoli. Even so throughout this they remained undefeated and when a 1-0 win at home against Grosseto was followed by a 3-2 win away at Cittadella things started to look promising. Two more draws preceded the Siena match, 1-1 with Piacenza and 0-0 away with Modena, they may well be the draw specialists of Serie B but they are at least undefeated.
It was with the unbeaten record in mind that Empoli welcomed Siena. Siena were top of the league and also undefeated, the fact that this was a local derby was the only aspect that promised the game may not be a draw. Empoli started the match well and on 35 minutes an innocuous through ball looked to be easily gathered by Siena goalkeeper Ferdinando Coppola, most of the players turned away waiting for the kick up field, all that was apart from Claudio Coralli whose eagle eye noticed the keeper had spilled the ball, he pounced and slotted it into the empty goal, a disaster of titanic proportions for Siena. The goal seemed to spark Empoli’s belief that they could win this game and constant pressure lead to a second goal just a minute before half time, good work on the right again led to a ball into the box, which was was not dealt with and when the loose ball trickled to the edge of the box it was left for Diego Fabbrini to unleash a rocket from 20 yards to make it 2-0. Siena were on the ropes and as the second half drew to a close substitute Gennaro Troianello handballed in the box giving Empoli a penalty. Claudio Coralli stepped up, sent the keeper the wrong way and side footed his penalty into the top right hand corner, 3-0 and Empoli could now celebrate. The derby day victory had been won along with another clean sheet and the unbeaten record was intact, Empoli are now up to fourth in the table, four points off the top.
Next week a tough fixture against third place Reggina will really go to show if Empoli have the ability to mount a serious challenge to the Serie B title. This small club from Tuscany have tasted the big time and unlike so few have tasted European football, that taste is addictive and Empoli will not be giving up any time soon.