Atalanta pull off Champions League ‘miracle’
Atalanta returned home to a heroes' welcome yesterday with 2,000 fans braving bitter cold in the Alps in northern Italy, after the Bergamo team reached the Champions League last 16 in their debut campaign, despite losing their first three matches.
Coach Gian Piero Gasperini hailed a "victory for Italian football" after joining Serie A rivals Juventus and Napoli in the knockout rounds.
Inter Milan are the only absentee after losing 2-1 to Barcelona at the San Siro on Tuesday.
The team greeted fans on board an open-top bus at Bergamo Airport in the early hours yesterday, amid fireworks, singing and banners, following what the Italian press hailed a "miracle" comeback.
"Historical Atalanta," headlined Gazzetta dello Sport.
"Dea (Goddess, the team's nickname) are in paradise," wrote Turin daily Tuttosport.
"Gasperini is a Magician," continued Corriere dello Sport on their front page.
Atalanta, a club with a 112-year history, had to wait until their fourth group game to earn their first point, a draw with Manchester City, before sealing their berth with a 3-0 win away to Shakhtar Donetsk.
"It is a victory for Bergamo, for all of Atalanta, from the fans to the management to the players and the staff," said Gasperini.
Atalanta, whose only major title was an Italian Cup in 1963, were relegated from Serie A in 2003, 2005 and 2010.
Gasperini took over in 2016 after leaving Genoa, and guided them to third last season to reach the Champions League for the first time.
"This strong bond gave us the impetus to succeed," he said. "We are happy for us but also for Italian football."
The Italians, forced to play their home games at Milan's San Siro, 55km from Bergamo, joined City in the knockout stages from Group C as Dinamo Zagreb lost 4-1 to the English champions in Croatia. - AFP