Atalanta

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Atalanta brings soccer back to one-time coronavirus epicenter Bergamo

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MILAN (AP) __ When Atalanta takes to the field on Sunday, the match will hold an extra element of poignancy.

Not only will it be the team’s first game in more than three months as Serie A resumes this weekend but, more than that, Atalanta plays its soccer in Bergamo, which was one of the Italian cities hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 16,000 people have died from the virus in the Lombardy region containing Bergamo, and the small city was one of the epicenters of the outbreak.

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“The extent of what happened in Bergamo is difficult to remedy with whatever type of endeavor,” Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said on Saturday. “It’s clear that it will never be forgotten, it completely turned our lives upside down. Maybe it will only be in time that we will understand why it was so aggressive here.”

Many experts have pointed to the Champions League match between Atalanta and Valencia on Feb. 19 in Milan as one of the biggest reasons why the virus was so deadly in Bergamo. The match has been dubbed “Game Zero” by the local media.

Less than a week after the game, the first cases were reported in the province of Bergamo and the greatest achievement in Atalanta’s history was swiftly marred. Atalanta won that first-leg match 4-1, and won the return leg 4-3 to reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League in its first ever season in the competition.

The Champions League will now finish with a mini-tournament in Lisbon in August.

“Bergamo paid a heavy price, we will try to start again through football and bring smiles back to a city which was turned upside down,” Gasperini said.

Gasperini revealed last month that he acquired COVID-19 and was concerned for his life in mid-March. The 62-year-old Italian started feeling sick on March 9, a day before Atalanta played at Valencia in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16.

Fourth-place Atalanta hosts Sassuolo on Sunday. Sassuolo was the last team to play, alongside Brescia, before Serie A was halted on March 9. Striker Francesco Caputo celebrated the first of his two goals that day with a sign in Italian that read “It will all be OK. (hash)Stayathome.”

Atalanta loanee Rinaldi dies from effects of aneurysm

Andrea Rinaldi
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Atalanta prospect Andrea Rinaldi has died after a three-day fight following an aneurysm, his loan club confirmed on Monday.

Rinaldi, 19, collapsed while training remotely and doctors were unable to help him.

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A center midfielder, Rinaldi scored once and added an assist in 25 matches between Coppa Serie D and league play.

Rinaldi had been at  Atalanta since 13, winning the Under-17 league title and Super Cup in 2016. He had been on loan from Atalanta since August.

There’s a glowing and emotional write-up from ACLegnano.it:

“We could write pages and pages to tell who this golden boy was, exemplary in life and play. Never a word and a tone out of place, never a protest and a controversy, always and only fairness, commitment, education, and respect. Values transmitted by a magnificent family around which we must all huddle to try and instill courage and strength in front of something too abnormal to ba accepted, elaborated, and understood in rational terms.”

“In one year he played as a midfielder showing speed and dynamism that baffled the opposing defenses. An unmistakable midfield moped. We will all remember the goal he scored in his native Carate in December and which gave Legnano a fundamental victory. We want to remind you of Andrea and not say goodbye: Run and play up there for your Legnano, we will always have you in our hearts.”

His parent club also issued a statement on his passing, below:

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

UEFA Champions League
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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.