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Atalanta-Valencia match labeled ‘Game Zero’ by some medical experts

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They’re calling it Game Zero when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, but could a Champions League match in Italy really be the “biological bomb” that sent COVID-19 through two countries?

Associated Press writers Tales Azzoni and Andrew Dampf wrote a sprawling story of Atalanta’s Round of 16 first leg against Valencia in Milan last month.

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Atalanta is from Bergamo and the match was widely considered the biggest in club history. Around one-third of Bergamo’s population traveled to Milan’s San Siro to catch the event, won 4-1 by the hosts.

Now authorities are wondering whether the match, with thousands of Italians and a number of visiting Spaniards, helped send the virus back west.

From The Associated Press:

“We were mid-February so we didn’t have the circumstances of what was happening,” Bergamo mayor Giorgio Gori said this week during a live Facebook chat with the Foreign Press Association in Rome. “If it’s true what they’re saying that the virus was already circulating in Europe in January, then it’s very probable that 40,000 Bergamaschi in the stands of San Siro, all together, exchanged the virus between them. As is possible that so many Bergamaschi that night got together in houses, bars to watch the match and did the same. Unfortunately, we couldn’t have known. No one knew the virus was already here. It was inevitable.”

Atalanta won the first leg and then dedicated the second leg to medical workers and suffering people back home, which by then was dealing with an escalating crisis.

A journalist in Valencia attended the game and later became the second person to test positive for COVID-19 in Spain. Valencia center back Ezequiel Garay was one of five club members to test positive for coronavirus as well.

It’s certainly no one’s fault, but the validity of the hypothesis alone shows why experts are begging everyone to abide by social distancing measures.

Atalanta remains hopeful of competing in its first ever UCL quarterfinals should the competition continue later this year.

Ilicic scores four, Atalanta advances past Valencia

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Atalanta negotiated Valencia and an empty Mestalla Stadium in Spain on Tuesday to advance to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals with a 4-3 second-leg win and 8-4 aggregate score line.

La Dea entered with a 4-1 advantage and got four goals from Josip Ilicic in the second leg. They qualify for the quarterfinals for the first time in its history.

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Ilicic converted a third-minute penalty to insure its lead, though Kevin Gameiro leveled the leg 18 minutes later.

Ilicic added a second penalty before the break. He scored five goals over the two legs.

Gameiro got his second off a Ferran Torres feed in the 51st minute, but Valencia needed four more goals.

The La Liga mainstay got a Torres goal with 23 minutes to play, but that was it for the comeback bid thanks to Ilicic completing his hat trick in the 71st minute.

Champions League preview: Spurs, Valencia face deficits

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Tottenham Hotspur made club history last season with a run to the Champions League final, but needs a big result Tuesday to keep hope of returning to that stage.

Spurs trail RB Leipzig 1-0 after one leg and are headed to Germany with the knowledge that multiple goals are a must.

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Doing that without Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son, and now Steven Bergwijn is a tall ask.

Dele Alli has been leading the line for Jose Mourinho in recent weeks, and the English attacker is growing in confidence. That’ll be needed as he faces the joint-toughest defense in the Bundesliga.

From Football.London:

“We have to score two goals and play well and then going into the league at the weekend we have to pick up as many points as we can. We can’t keep letting opportunities slip away from us.”

If Spurs have significant work on hand to flip their result, Valencia has a doctoral thesis.

Serie A side Atalanta takes a 4-1 lead to Valencia, but is aware that the La Liga outfit has scored three or more goals thrice this season and will be playing for pride in front of its home crowd.

There’s also the matter of coronavirus, which has dominated Italian sports and is now making its way through Spain.

Here’s Atalanta boss Gian Piero Gasperini. From Football-Italia:

“Being here is like being at home a month ago. We arrived here safely. It’s very different here compared to Italy,” Gasperini said. “We need to make assessments in terms of health but also from a social point of view: playing behind closed doors, like yesterday, even in a context that nobody likes, could be of comfort to the people locked up in the house. However the priority remains the health of the people.”

Both matches kick off at 4 p.m. ET.

Spain: Games against Italian teams to be played without fans

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MADRID — Spanish authorities said Tuesday that major soccer games involving Italian teams will be played in empty stadiums because of the coronavirus outbreak, including the second leg between Valencia and Atalanta in the round of 16 of the Champions League.

[ MORE: Coronavirus concerns postpone Juventus-Milan cup semifinal ]

Spain’s Health Ministry said the Europa League game between Getafe and Inter Milan in southern Madrid on March 19 will also be played without fans. The first leg will be on March 12 in Italy.

The Valencia match against Atalanta will be played at Mestalla Stadium on March 10. Atalanta won the first leg 4-1 in Italy.

A Spanish journalist who regularly covers Valencia was believed to have been infected with the virus during the trip to Italy for the first leg.

[ MORE: Almiron salutes Martinez as Bruce praises star ]

The club eventually suspended all media access to its coaches and players, keeping them from speaking to journalists in news conferences and mixed zones before and after matches.

A couple of basketball games between Spanish and Italian clubs this month also will be played in empty venues.

Serie A roundup: Zapata hat-trick powers Atalanta’s third seven-goal performance of season

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Atalanta’s demolishing of Lecce highlights Sunday’s Serie A action, which was ravaged by the coronavirus outbreak.

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Lecce 2-7 Atalanta

The question needs to be asked: How many times is Atalanta going to score seven (or more) goals in a single match this season?

The red-hot Italian side – winners of their last three league bouts – recorded their third seven-goal performance of the season against Lecce on Sunday. Colombian striker Duvan Zapata scored a hat-trick, while Josip Ilicic continued his fine run of form with a goal two minutes into the second half.

Atalanta, who is one of Europe’s most exciting sides moving forward, didn’t have a picture-perfect 90 minutes. The visitors, like lowly Lecce, went into the half all squared with two goals apiece, following Giulio Donati’s 40th-minute goal.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s side, though, were about to put together one of the best halves of the season.

In addition to Zapata and Ilicic, Luis Muriel and Ruslan Malinovskyi squeezed their way into the scoring sheet, pushing the final score count for the visitors. Atalanta’s 70 goals in 25 matches lead the league, and are ten more than second-best Lazio.

The lopsided win comes 11 days after Atalanta turned plenty of heads with their emphatic performance against Valencia in the Round of 16 of the Champions League. All signs point for their cinderella story to continue, and, perhaps, into next year, as Atalanta leads fifth-place Roma by three points.

The season keeps getting better and better for La Dea. 

Elsewhere in Serie A

Cagliari 3-4 Roma