Football

Chasing a dream, Atalanta rides wave of remarkable run in Champions League

The big battle: Valencia will be keen to halt Atalanta’s run.

The big battle: Valencia will be keen to halt Atalanta’s run.   | Photo Credit: JOSE JORDAN

The team from Bergamo in the foothills of the Italian Alps takes on Valencia

Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta is counting on the wave of enthusiasm generated by the Italian outsiders’ remarkable run in its Champions League debut season to surge past Spanish club Valencia in the knockout rounds.

The team from Bergamo in the foothills of the Italian Alps takes on Valencia on Wednesday in the last 16, first leg, at the 80,000-seater San Siro, which has nearly four times the capacity of its home stadium, 55 kilometres away.

“This is a game that we have been waiting months for,” said Gasperini.

“Being able to play on front of so many of our fans at a venue like San Siro is a beautiful achievement that we have been waiting a long time for.

“The Champions League is a dream which we’ll try to carry forward as much as possible.

“The whole city of Bergamo is practically travelling to Milan.”

The team’s stunning run comes despite losing its opening three Champions League group games, including 4-0 away to Dinamo Zagreb before a 5-1 loss at Manchester City.

The revival

But a 1-1 draw against Man City in the San Siro sparked the revival of ‘La Dea’ (The Goddess) who finished seven points behind the Premier League side in second to reach the knockout stage.

Atalanta’s confidence has been further boosted after seeing off AS Roma 2-1 in a cauldron in front of its home crowd at Atleti Azzurri d’Italia stadium on Saturday.

The win consolidated its fourth place in Serie A, six points ahead of the side from the capital and bolstered its hopes of Champions League next season.

“This victory gives us confidence for the next games, it was a fundamental clash to be won,” said Mario Pasalic, who came off the bench and hit the match winner 19 seconds later.

Tottenham vs Leipzig

Tottenham meets Leipzig in the other match on Wednesday.

Their current form is a remarkable achievement for a club with a modest budget compared to rivals Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan.

Their transformation follows the arrival of Gasperini in the summer of 2016 from Genoa.

The 62-year-old previously coached Crotone, Palermo and briefly Inter Milan, where he was sacked after a run of five winless Serie A games and just one point.

The team — founded 113 years ago by a group of students from a local school and named after Atalanta, a huntress in Greek mythology — had been relegated in 2003, 2005 and 2010.

Gasperini guided it to a fourth-place finish in his first season to qualify for the Europa League.

Last season it finished third, powered by Colombian Duvan Zapata’s 23 league goals, and qualified for the Champions League for the first time.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 11:01:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/football/chasing-a-dream-atalanta-rides-wave-of-remarkable-run-in-champions-league/article30854236.ece

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