Atalanta ride wave of remarkable run | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 19, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 19, 2020

Atalanta ride wave of remarkable run

Gian Piero Gasperini's Atalanta are counting on the wave of enthusiasm generated by the Italian outsiders remarkable run in their 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 take 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 their 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 their opening three Champions League group games, including 4-0 away to Dinamo Zagreb before a 5-1 loss at Manchester City.

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 atmosphere on front of their home crowd at their Atleti Azzurri d'Italia stadium on Saturday.

The victory consolidated fourth place in Serie A, six points ahead of the side from the capital and bolstered their 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.

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

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

Atalanta have the best attack in the league with 63 goals scored -- 17 more than Cristiano Ronaldo's Juventus.

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