Dreams do happen but it always ends one way or the other. It is no longer news that Atalanta’s fairytale run in the 2019/2020 UEFA Champions League campaign has come to an end after French giants Paris St-Germain inflicted a 2-1 defeat on the Italians in Lisbon.
The Italians have overachieved by surpassing everyone’s expectations in the season at home and on the continental scene. Let us remind ourselves this is Atalanta’s first Champions League season ever in the history of the club.
PSG found themselves behind in the 26th minute when Mario Pasalic, left completely unmarked netted with a left-footed finish.
The French champions had their own share of opportunities but were wasteful, the main culprit was Neymar who shockingly lost a begging chance. The blunder was not his only shocking moment of the game as he missed two other very clear opportunities that could have killed the game.
As time ran out for the Parisiens to claw their way back into the game, Thomas Tuchel introduced Kylian Mbappe from the bench on the hour mark to add more urgency and impetus into the game. The Frenchman made an instantaneous impact with a great attempt at goal but his effort was saved by Marco Sportinello.
In the 90th minute however, the story changed and PSG got their equalizer through Brazilian defender Marquinhos who broke through and drew level. The Atalanta defense had absorbed so much pressure for 89 minutes and it was telling.
Just when the match looked destined for extra time, Mbappe teed up Cameroonian Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting for a close-range winner that PSG duly deserved on the premise that they had dominated well during the match.
Gian Piero Gasperini and his boys will leave Portugal knowing they have done very well for themselves and the entire club. In the coming years, they will cast their minds back to the 2019/2020 season and be really pleased with themselves.
There is no shame in the way and manner they have been eliminated. This set of Atalanta players have written their names in history books forever and their heroic manager, Gasperini will remain a name that will be adored in the streets of Bergamo.
The team lost their first three matches in Group C in the group stages of the Champions League and didn’t win the fourth, which ended in a draw but still managed to qualify for the Round of 16 of the tournament. In fact, they lost 4-0 to Dinamo Zagreb in their first encounter and followed that up with a 2-1 loss to Shakhtar Donetsk. Their third group match saw them heavily beaten 5-1 by Manchester City.
The resilient spirit of the the Nerazzurri ensured all hoped wasn’t lost and the return fixture against City at the Gewiss stadium ended in a 1-1 draw. The team immediately followed that up with a 2-0 victory over Dinamo Zagreb. Atalanta concluded the group stages with a fantastic 3-0 triumph over Shakhtar in Ukraine. The Italians finished the group second after accruing seven points.
In the Round of 16 first leg, Atalanta convincingly dispatched Spanish outfit Valencia 4-1 in Italy. As if that was not enough, they went on to net a further four goals in Spain in the second leg conceding three. All four goals were scored by Slovenian Josip Ilicic.
At 32 years and 41 days, Ilicic wrote his name in the record books as he broke Zlatan Ibrahmovic’s record, becoming the oldest player to score an away hat-trick in the Champions League.
As an editorial described it, “that day was, possibly, the proudest in the modest history of Atalanta. A great tide had made the short journey from Bergamo, the prosperous, pretty city where the soccer team is based, to Milan… Atalanta had never breathed such rarefied air. It had, in truth, scarcely even contemplated it.”
For the match against Valencia, Bergamo’s mayor, Gori and his son had even been invited to watch the game in the directors’ box. Such was the importance of the game for a team that was the face of the city of Bergamo.
And that brings us to the talk on the free-scoring nature of the Italians.
Atalanta has dazzled everyone with their adventurous goal scoring spree both in Italy and in Europe at large. The team scored a total of 98 goals in the recently concluded Italian Serie A season – only Manchester City (102) and Bayern Munich (100) scored more in the whole of Europe’s top five leagues.
Also, the Atalanta team had three of their players score double figure goals in the league. Duvan Zapata scored 18 goals, Luis Muriel also netted 18 times while Ilicic found the net a total of 15 times – a combined 51 goals.
62-year-old Gasperini led the team to a fourth place finish with 72 points in the 2016/2017 season, leading them to Europe after 26 years by qualifying for the 2017/2018 UEFA Europa League season.
La Dea also reached the final of the 2018/2019 Copa Italia final for the first time in 23 years but lost 2-0 to Lazio.
The Gian Piero Gasperini reign will be remembered as one that totally turned around the fortunes of the team. It is not a bad or sad ending to the Cinderella run of a team that reached the quarter final stage in their very final Champions League campaign.
Atalanta finished third in the standings at the end of the Serie 2019/2020 season so expect to see more of them at the next Champions League Campaign. Perhaps with the experience they have now, they can go a step further and reach the semi-finals and from there anything is possible.