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By ESPN Staff
Jun 20, 2004

Fiorentina complete return to Serie A

ROME, June 20 (Reuters) - Twice Italian champions Fiorentina completed a fairytale return to Serie A on Sunday, when they drew the second leg of their playoff against Perugia 1-1 to triumph 2-1 on aggregate.

More than 30,000 spectators, including ex-Fiorentina player Gabriel Batistuta, packed into Florence's Franchi stadium to watch striker Enrico Fantini put the home side ahead in the 47th minute.

Fantini, who had also scored in the first leg, was sent off for a second bookable offence 10 minutes later.

Perugia grabbed a late equalizer through Brazilian striker Guilherme Do Prado, but could not find a second goal to avoid relegation to next season's Serie B.

For Fiorentina the win ended a turbulent two-year exile from the top-flight following relegation to Serie C2, Italy's fourth division, after being declared bankrupt.

Their return to Serie A had special meaning for veteran midfielder Angelo Di Livio. Two years ago the 37-year-old was playing for Italy at the World Cup but he stayed with Fiorentina throughout their troubles.

'I want to thank all the lads that played this year and last. They've done a great job and never gave up on the hope of Serie A,' he said.

'Personally, I didn't want to turn my back on this city.'

Fiorentina lost their name and most of their leading players with relegation.

Renamed Florentia Viola, their prospects of a speedy return to Serie A appeared slim. But with the financial backing of their new owner, the shoe manufacturer Della Valle, allied to hefty local support, the club bought back the right to use their historic name and duly won the C2 title.

Fiorentina were then elevated to Serie B at the beginning of this season as part of the expansion of the division taken after a series of legal disputes during the close season.

Earlier this month they finished sixth in Serie B to win the right to a playoff against the 15th-placed Serie A side, Perugia, for a place in the top division.

'We're delighted - for the team, for the fans, for the city,' said club president Diego Della Valle.

'We've returned to Serie A as fast as possible.'