ROME: Champions League newcomers Atalanta were shown the cruel and tantalizing face of football when they exited the tournament in a heart-breaking end to their quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain.
The Bergamaschi led for more than one hour from Mario Pasalic’s clinical drive in Lisbon on Wednesday but saw the French bounce back in the closing minutes to clinch the semifinal berth through close-range finishes from Marquinhos and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
“Sick joke on Atalanta – Not this way!” La Gazzetta dello Sport headlined on Thursday, while L’Eco di Bergamo and Tuttosport ran “Proud of you” on their front pages to underline the squad’s impressive showing in the one-leg match played behind closed doors.
Sympathy for Atalanta ran wider than in just the town badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, leading coach Gian Piero Gasperini to say ahead of the match that he felt like being the coach of Italy’s national team.
He looked back to the first group match lost 4-0 at Dinamo Zagreb in September and relished the progress of a team that have now shed their provincial image and will again be in the event next season as third-placed in the Italian Serie A.
Their domestic season was also impressive and marked by 98 goals as they produced a great finale in the 12 rounds played in six weeks after a coronavirus lockdown.
“It’s clear that the regret is huge today as we allowed a comeback in the dying minutes when we thought we would reach the semifinal,” Gasperini said.
“It would have been extraordinary, but our journey was extraordinary anyway. We have surely grown and have shown that we deserve to play in this competition.”
The tactician, who in a month will open his fifth season in Bergamo, said that he, the team and the club learnt much from the experience.
“We walk out of this with our head held high and now we will think about the future,” he said.
The club’s director general Luca Percassi, the son of president and former Atalanta player Antonio, said his family is focused on the progress of the team.
“Our fans deserve to see Atalanta play in our stadium in Europe,” Percassi said. “Our ambition is to continue on with out growth.”
Percassi said he soon hopes to have fans back at the club-owned Gewiss Stadium as Covid-19 appears to be under control in Italy.
Officials from Europe’s ruling body UEFA are to visit the facility in September, where the club hopes to play the next campaign after having to host this season’s home fixtures at Milan’s Giuseppe Meazza. – dpa