Atalanta turn to next season after ‘bitter’ Champions League exit

Milan (AFP) – Atalanta turned their focus to next season after their stunning Champions League run ended in a heartbreaking 2-1 quarter-final defeat to Paris Saint-Germain.

“Bitter end,” headlined the Corriere di Bergamo after two last-gasp goals denied local heroes Atalanta, who had led heading into the final minute in Lisbon thanks Mario Pasalic’s opener midway through the first half.

“Atalanta held out and dreamed” before falling to “a star-studded team of millionaires,” the newspaper wrote.

The side from Bergamo, the city in the foothills of the Italian Alps which suffered immensely during the coronavirus pandemic, were carrying their country’s hopes of a first Champions League trophy in a decade.

“Proud of you,” ran the front pages of several newspapers including Tuttosport and the Eco di Bergamo.

Known as ‘La Dea’ (The Goddess), Atalanta had been unlikely challengers having won just one major trophy, the 1963 Italian Cup.

They had earned their Champions League debut after a third-place finish in Serie A last season, and matched that this campaign to ensure another run at Europe’s top competition.

“There is a lot of regret,” Atalanta CEO Luca Percassi told Sky Sport.

“We are proud of these guys, of what they have shown throughout this very different season.”

Despite the heavy impact of COVID-19, the season has been Atalanta’s best ever.

They achieved a club record 78 points in Serie A, scoring a whopping 98 goals in the process.

“There is enormous satisfaction for having best represented our city,” continued Percassi.

“We return home with regret but with the awareness of having made an entire population happy.”

Playing in the Champions League has lifted their game, he added.

“You compare yourself with the best in the world and being able to play it next year is another source of pride and satisfaction,” said Percassi. 

The club are also optimistic that their Atleti Azzurri d’Italia Stadium, which underwent renovations this season, will be able to host European games when the new campaign gets underway.

The club had been playing their Champions League games in the San Siro in Milan.

“We now want to play a European competition at home, on September 7 and 8 there will be an inspection by UEFA to check the progress of the work, we are confident that this can happen,” added Percassi.

It has now been a decade since an Italian team has lifted the Champions League, when Jose Mourinho led Inter Milan to an unprecedented treble.

Juventus failed to make it past the last 16 this season, the nine-time reigning domestic champions last winning the trophy in 1996.

All eyes will now be on Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan to save Italian pride as they are still in the running for the Europa League.

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