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Beltran's late penalty sends Fiorentina into Europa Conference League final for second straight year

Lucas Beltran Fiorentina Lucas Beltran - The Canadian Press

BRUGGE, Belgium (AP) — A late penalty from Lucas Beltran that rewarded Fiorentina's intense pressing ensured the Italian team progressed to the Europa Conference League final for the second straight year with an aggregate 4-3 win over Club Brugge on Wednesday.

Fiorentina, which lost to West Ham in the title match last year, will face either Olympiakos or Aston Villa in the May 29 final in Athens. The Greek team hosts its English Premier League rival on Thursday holding a 4-2 lead from the first leg in England.

Fiorentina, which hit the woodwork three times and was the better team in the second half, is now unbeaten in its last 13 European matches.

Beltran’s goal secured a 1-1 draw after Brugge captain Hans Vanaken put the hosts in front with a first-half goal to level the tie. Fiorentina had prevailed 3-2 in the first leg in Italy.

“It is extraordinary, we wanted this final and we proved it in a resounding second half despite the curse of the posts,” Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Italiano said. "The boys brought out a great personality that is needed in these matches, here it was bedlam.”

Club Brugge was in control early on at the Jan Breydel stadium. Playing in front of the backline, Ghana international Denis Odoi was excellent in mastering the midfield with Vanaken as Fiorentina players were pegged back in their half and defended with pugnacity.

Brugge found an opening in the 20th minute when Vanaken delivered a precise cross for Maxim De Cuyper in the box. The defender tried to head the ball home but could not connect with it, and it went straight into the back of the net.

Brugge suddenly lost its focus after scoring and allowed Fiorentina to kickstart its match with a series of chances.

Back from injury, Brugge goalkeeper Simon Mignolet made an excellent save to win a one-on-one with Nicolas Gonzalez. Forward Christian Kouame then came close with a stunning half-volley that struck the crossbar and bounced in front of the goal line.

Both sides looked threatening after the interval, with Fiorentina gradually taking control of the game.

The Italian team had a first chance to level the scoring from a free kick that Cristiano Biraghi fired onto the crossbar in the 74th. Fiorentina then hit the woodwork again in the next minute as Kouame headed a cross off the post.

The Italian club’s efforts were rewarded in the 85th minute when Brandon Mechele conceded a penalty for a foul in the box. Beltran took the kick and sent the ball past Mignolet with a precise low shot.

Vanaken had a last opportunity to send the game into extra time after Odoi was sent off for a second booking, only for Filippo Terracciano to produce a fine save in stoppage time.

Fiorentina has now reached a European club competition final for the sixth time. Brugge's last appearance at a continental final was in 1978 when it lost to Liverpool in the European Cup title match.


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