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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.”

West Brom’s Austin warns others about seriousness of COVID-19

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Charlie Austin said he wants to warn young people about the dangers of COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus rapidly spreading across the world.

In an interview with the Telegraph Charlie Austin, currently of Championship side West Bromwich Albion and formerly of Southampton and Queens Park Rangers in the Premier League, said he’s experienced symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19. In a separate tweet, he clarified that he hasn’t been tested for the disease, but once he started feeling symptoms and spoke with West Bromwich Albion’s doctor Kevin Conrad, he immediately self-isolated in his home. His family were advised to do the same for the standard 14-day period.

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The 30-year-old striker stated he thought that he may have been infected while attending the Cheltenham Festival, an annual horse racing event that draws crowds of 250,000 and more. Austin said that he is going public with his diagnosis as a warning that despite rumors and reports that young people can easily battle the virus, his situation was proof that it’s a very serious health concern.

“Before I started feeling the symptoms on Saturday I was on the phone to my wife Bianca’s mother and I said to her that I hoped if anyone in our family got it that it would be me,” Austin said. “I felt like I was fit and healthy and I could handle it. A week later and I would say to anyone, even those in their 20s and 30s – ‘Don’t take it lightly – it’s serious’. I get that people who haven’t got it are going about their lives. Last week, I was living my life. Not that I didn’t take coronavirus seriously. But this is extremely serious and we should take it that way.”

Austin detailed how his temperature spiked over 103 degrees Fahrenheit, he developed a cough, and later had common symptoms associated with a fever. Austin’s point is to show that despite being in shape and a professional athlete, even he could suffer from the disease.

In his first season at West Bromwich after four years with Southampton, Austin has scored eight league goals in 26 matches. Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi is the only soccer player in England’s top two leagues who has publicly revealed that he’s tested positive for the virus, along with Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta.