By Andrew Warshaw
August 13 – With a couple of minutes left on the clock, one of the great romantic upsets was on the cards. In France, pens were being sharpened in anticipation of pouring scorn on yet another Champions League under-achieving failure by the country’s moneybags superstar team.
Then, in a flash, the fairy tale was over for underdogs Atalanta.
Europe’s top club competition may have had to be radically changed in format because of the Covid-19 pandemic and be played as a mini-tournament behind closed doors. But judging by Wednesday night, it has lost none of its drama.
Atalanta, who have won admirers across Europe for their style of play despite losing three group games, were on the verge of becoming the latest side to knock Paris St. Germain out and wreck the Parisiens’ hopes of a first Champions League crown.
Leading from the 27th minute in Lisbon, the team from Bergamo, right in the heart of the area of Italy so badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and who had never qualified for the Champions League before, were moments away from humbling PSG and all their financial might. Only for the favourites to finally make their pressure count and strike twice in the dying stages to bag a place in the semi-finals for the first time in 25 years and break the hearts of Gian Piero Gasperini’s outsiders.
“There was not long to go and it seemed we had done it but when you play against some of the strongest in the world at a technical and athletic level then it becomes tough,” said Gasperini, whose side were on the back foot after the mercurial Kylian Mbappe, on the bench due to an ankle injury, came on in the 60th minute to change the game.
“There is a great sense of regret. It seemed we were going to do it and that would have been a great achievement,. We still have (the memory of) a Champions League where we have grown as a team against some of the greats of Europe and I can’t do anything other than thank my lads.”
A relieved PSG coach Thomas Tuchel, whose emotions changed in the blink of an eye, confessed that he was contemplating elimination.
“After 85 minutes of play, we were realistic. But I always had the impression that if we scored the first, we would add the second,” he said.
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