MILAN (AP) Fiorentina played its first match since the death of captain Davide Astori, beating last-place Benevento 1-0 on an emotional Sunday at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
The 31-year-old Astori was found dead in his hotel room last Sunday after a suspected cardiac arrest before his team was due to play an Italian league match at Udinese.
“Davide was, and will always remain, our light,” said new Fiorentina captain Milan Badelj. “No one will ever forget this match, it will be difficult … Florence has shown us its soul, we are all united after a tragedy like this.”
The Fiorentina players and staff all came out for the warmup wearing Astori No. 13 shirts and lined up next to a giant poster of his shirt and the words “captain forever.” They also held up a banner with “Ciao Davide” before kickoff.
There were plenty more No. 13 shirts and banners in the stands, including in the visitors’ section, with one huge banner reading: “There are men who never die. There are stories that are passed on through eternity. Bon voyage, Captain.”
Purple and white balloons were released after an impeccably observed minute’s silence as part of a series of deeply moving scenes, which had many in tears.
The players also stopped to remember Astori after 13 minutes of the game and there was special choreography in the stands, with the fans turning one end purple with “Davide 13” while everyone chanted Astori’s name — as they did for most of the match.
Vitor Hugo, the player who replaced Astori in the starting lineup, scored the only goal of the match in the 25th minute, leaping high to head in Riccardo Saponara’s corner for midtable Fiorentina.
Hugo celebrated by running to the bench with a T-shirt bearing Astori’s face, giving it to a member of staff and saluting it.
Both teams hit the post in the final minutes, through Massimo Coda and Badelj.
Many of the players collapsed to the ground after the final whistle, with tears streaming down their faces.
“I hope that, from above, Davide is proud of us, I am convinced he gave a hand to Vitor Hugo to jump so high, he is always on the pitch with us,” said Fiorentina midfielder Marco Benassi.
“It has been a difficult day, like the whole week, we have felt a great emptiness.”