Dark-horses Atalanta put one foot into the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League with a 4-1 victory over Valencia at home in the round-of-16 first-leg. FOX Sports Asia takes a look at the key talking points.
1. Atalanta mark big occasion with a stunning win
For a club like Atalanta, this was an occasion of massive significance. The Serie A side were making their first-ever appearance in the Champions League last-16 and they completed it in some style. The Lombardy-based team have been the principal entertainers in their league as well and the manner in which they celebrated the occasion was only fitting. 63 league goals put them above the likes of Juventus and Inter – something they emphasized further with a thumping 4-1 win over Valencia to announce themselves on the big stage.
2. Hateboer strikes blow Valencia away
Hans Hateboer scored his first-ever Champions League goals against Valencia and he sure won’t forget them in a hurry. The right-back’s first goal came after he stormed in to meet Alejandro Gomez’s cross, putting his side ahead in the 16th minute. Exactly 46 minutes later, the full-back had the ball in the net once again. Expertly beating the offside trap to latch on to Mario Pasalic’s pass, Hateboer made no mistake to make it 4-0 and extinguish any hopes Valencia had of a comeback.
3. Sorry – Valencia need a miracle
After making it out of one of the toughest groups in the competition, Valencia’s shambolic performance against an evenly matched side has left them with no excuses. Expected to be an even game, Valencia’s shabby display now means they are almost certainly going out of the competition. Hateboer’s 16th-minute strike opened the floodgates and from then on the visitors never really looked like getting into the match. Poor, poor performance.
4. Cheryshev scores Valencia’s consolation goal
Remember Denis Cheryshev? One of the stars of the 2018 World Cup, he is now plying his trade in La Liga with Valencia. The Russian winger served viewers with a dose of nostalgia soon after Valencia’s fourth goal when his low-strike from distance went in to make it 4-1. While it has given them some semblance of hope, more likely than not Cheryshev’s goal is nothing more than a consolation.
5. Can Atalanta go the distance?
Some of the most famous of triumphs in the UEFA Champions League have been those of dark-horses defying all odds to make it to the podium. Atalanta defied naysayers to qualify for the Champions League via the Serie A last season and this year they are back at it. After making it to the round-of-16 for the first time in their history, it was thought that a game against European regulars Valencia would ground the Italians but far from it, they are instead thriving in the high-pressure atmosphere of the competition. Fans are drawing parallels to past successes like Porto in 2004 and even Leicester City’s run to the quarter-finals after winning the league, but Atalanta’s journey is theirs and theirs alone. Who’s to say the dark horses can’t make it all the way to Istanbul come May?