Fiorentina deserves its Champions League dream
Dreams, as the saying goes, cost nothing.
But when your sporting hopes have been dashed by defeat, even that can seem like too heavy a price to pay.
If you don't support one of the giants of football the chances are you will invest a lot of time, effort and emotion in your club for very little reward.
So when the good times come, you have to savor them to the full.
Fans of Fiorentina, the team from a city more famed for its art than its football, are enjoying such a moment right now.
On Wednesday night they beat Liverpool at Anfield to finish top of their group and go into the last 16 of the Champions League. It is not a position they are used to occupying.
Alberto Gilardino's injury time goal made a world of a difference to the Viola.
It has helped them to avoid the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and the English trio of Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea in the next round.
Instead, they will face either Bayern Munich, Stuttgart, CSKA Moscow, Olympiakos or Porto.
None of them easy, but none of them unbeatable (although Juventus fans might argue Louis van Gaal's side come close).
But make no mistake, Fiorentina have earned the right to believe they can progress to the quarterfinals.
While Inter and Milan were making heavy work of qualification, they came through with five wins out of six — their only defeat being suffered with ten men after a controversial sending off.
They have stood toe-to-toe with Lyon and Liverpool, two regulars in the Champions League knockout stages, and not looked inferior.
And in Juan Manuel Vargas, Stevan Jovetic, Sebastien Frey and Alberto Gilardino they have had some of the star performers of the group games.
Of course, it won't be simple to progress.
Nonetheless, the long-suffering fans of Fiorentina surely deserve the right to believe that they could get through to the final eight.
Their performances so far entitle them to look to the future with at least a small degree of confidence.
If nothing else, they can sleep soundly for the next couple of months knowing they are among the best 16 sides in Europe and might yet prove themselves even better than that.
<i>Giancarlo Rinaldi is a contributor for</i> <a href="http://bleacherreport.com/world-football" target="_blank">Bleacher Report</a><i>, the open source sports network.</i>