Thousands of Atalanta fans ignored the Italian team’s plea to stay away before Wednesday’s Champions League match against Real Madrid in Bergamo.
Over 4,000 gathered outside the Gewiss Stadium in northern Italy hours before the 2000GMT kickoff with a party atmosphere despite the coronavirus restrictions.
The cheering fans, including families with young children all wearing protective masks, waved banners and flags with a fireworks display and smoke bombs set off.
They waited for the team bus carrying Atalanta players and staff before the last 16, first leg match.
Atalanta had published an appeal from the local health authority not to turn up at the stadium during COVID-19 lockdown measures.
“We keep in mind the danger of contagion of that virus that we are fighting with all our strength and ability,” the team said.
“We live the great and historic game with the prudence and caution that the moment and the preventive health measures require, avoiding meetings, hugs, choirs and gatherings.
“The time will come again to live these attitudes in the utmost freedom, and surely we will be there, but we still need to have patience: the same we have shown in waiting for this dream encounter with Real.”
Atalanta are playing their second Champions League campaign, but first knock-out round in their home stadium which underwent renovations last season.
Atalanta won their last 16, first leg clash against Valencia 4-1 on front of 45,000 spectators in Milan’s San Siro in a match considered to have been one of the reasons behind the acceleration of the virus in Italy with Bergamo at the epicentre of the country’s outbreak.
Manchester United announced on Thursday they had completed the transfer of Ivorian winger Amad Diallo from Serie A side Atalanta.
The 18-year-old has signed a contract at Old Trafford until 2025, with the option of an extra year.
The agreement between the clubs was first announced on October 5 but the transfer was subject to a medical, work-permit and personal terms.
These steps have now been completed and an application has been made for a visa. Once this has been issued, Diallo will be cleared to travel to Manchester.
Diallo made a total of five senior appearances for Atalanta and scored one goal.
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said the teenager had been on the club’s radar for a number of years.
“Manchester United has such a proud history of developing young players and everything is in place to enable Amad to reach his potential here,” he said.
“It will take time for him to adapt but his speed, vision and fantastic dribbling ability will stand him in good stead to make the transition. He is a player with all of the raw attributes that are needed to be an important player for Manchester United in the years to come.”
Diallo said the move was a “dream come true”.
“I have had time to prepare for this move, both physically and mentally, and I have worked really hard to be ready to make the step up to this amazing club,” he added.
Atalanta secured a return to the Champions League knockout stages on Wednesday following a 1-0 win at Ajax that sent the Italians through as Group D runners-up behind Liverpool.
Substitute Luis Muriel struck the decisive goal five minutes from time, shortly after the dismissal of Ajax midfielder Ryan Gravenberch in Amsterdam, as Atalanta won their fifth successive away game in the competition.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s side had required just a point in their final game to edge Ajax to second place.
They were just minutes away from reaching last season’s semi-finals on their Champions League debut before conceding two late goals to Paris Saint-Germain in the ‘Final Eight’ in Lisbon.
“Reaching the round of 16 again is an extraordinary achievement. This season even more than last year, because Liverpool and Ajax are two traditionally huge teams,” Gasperini told Sky Sport Italia.
“Defensively we did really well. Then we tried our best on the break, and got that goal in the final minutes – deserved in my opinion.”
Four-time winners Ajax have now failed to progress from the group stage for the seventh time in their past eight appearances, and will drop into the last 32 of the Europa League.
Eighteen-year-old forward Brian Brobbey made his Champions League debut for Ajax, replacing the injured Lassina Traore in an attack also missing David Neres.
Atalanta, whose Serie A game at Udinese at the weekend was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, left Josip Ilicic, their leading scorer during their run to the 2019-20 quarter-finals, on the bench.
Dutch midfielder Marten de Roon sliced wide for Atalanta from 20 yards following a Duvan Zapata lay-off in a cautious first half, with Brobbey removed at the break following an accidental collision with team-mate Nicolas Tagliafico.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar had a penalty appeal dismissed after he was barged by Remo Freuler before Davy Klaassen drilled at the legs of Atalanta goalkeeper Pierliugi Gollini following a subtle flick from Jurgen Ekkelenkamp.
Teenager Gravenberch was sent off 10 minutes from time for a second yellow after catching Atalanta captain Papu Gomez with his trailing arm, and Muriel promptly delivered the fatal blow as he ran onto Freuler’s pass and rounded Andre Onana before slotting home.
Papu Gomez extended his scoring streak as Atalanta crushed Cagliari 5-2 for a third consecutive win this season, but champions Juventus’s clash against Napoli later Sunday remains in doubt after coronavirus cases at both clubs.
Atalanta struck hard in their first home game this season in Bergamo, bringing their tally to 13 goals in three games played, to sit top of the Serie A table.
“This team is going through an excellent period,” said coach Gian Piero Gasperini.
“They did not suffer much, the goalkeeper was not very busy. The score could have been much bigger.
“We’ve given the maximum in three games, now there is the (international) break that interrupts this momentum.
“After that we will immediately have Napoli and then the Champions League, we have to pick up where we left off.”
Gasperini’s side were four goals up at the break with Luis Muriel opening after seven minute.
Gomez blasted in the second from a distance just before the half-hour mark, five minutes after Uruguayan defender Diego Godin had pulled Cagliari level on his debut since moving from Inter Milan.
Mario Pasalic and Duvan Zapata also scored in a five-minute spell before the break.
Joao Pedro reduced the deficit for the Sardinians after the break but Sam Lammers marked his first home game with an impressive solo effort with nine minutes to go.
Atalanta have the maximum nine points, but can be joined by Inter Milan who play Lazio later, with Hellas Verona and AC Milan also looking for their third wins against Parma and La Spezia.
– Napoli risk forfeit –
Napoli are also looking for a third straight win, against nine-time holders Juventus, who have four points from two games.
But their match remains uncertain with Gennaro Gattuso’s side remaining in Naples, complying with a decision by regional health authorities.
Both Napoli and Atalanta announced new cases among their players on Saturday.
Gennaro Gattuso’s side now count midfielder Eljif Elmas among those with the virus after Poland international Piotr Zielinski on Friday.
Atalanta said their unnamed player had “a low viral load” and was “asymptomatic”.
Juventus confirmed they would “take to the field” as scheduled despite two positive tests among their staff with coach Andrea Pirlo naming his match-day squad.
The Lega Serie A confirmed that the match between the title rivals remains scheduled for Turin at 1845 GMT despite Napoli remaining at home in Naples.
If Napoli do not play Gattuso’s side would forfeit the game 3-0.
The Lega Serie A are applying UEFA rules whereby a match can take place as long as a side have 13 healthy players, including a goalkeeper.
The only possible exemption would be a club which has an active outbreak of Covid-19 with more than ten new positive cases in a week.
In this case, the club can request a postponement, but only once in the season.
Genoa’s game against Torino on Saturday was postponed with the Ligurian club, who lost 6-0 to Napoli last weekend, now counting 22 cases, including 17 players.
Brazilian superstar Neymar insisted that Paris Saint-Germain always believed they could come back from the brink to defeat Atalanta with two goals in the dying moments of their Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday.
“I never thought of going home. From start to finish, from the warm-up, we only thought of qualifying for the semi-finals,” the world’s most expensive footballer told RMC Sport.
Substitute Eric Choupo-Moting’s goal three minutes into added time allowed PSG to beat the Italian outsiders 2-1.
Mario Pasalic gave Atalanta a 27th-minute lead but PSG were rescued when Marquinhos came forward to scramble in a last-minute equaliser.
Kylian Mbappe set up fellow substitute Choupo-Moting to win the tie right at the end.
The French champions will play RB Leipzig or Atletico Madrid next Tuesday for a place in the final.
“Nobody is going to take my mind off that I want to go to the final,” added 28-year-old Neymar as PSG made the last-four for the first time since 1995.
“We really have a great group, we’re a family, we know that with this state of mind it’s impossible. to put us out of competition.
“We knew that a ball could arrive, that even after the equaliser we could score a second goal.”
Neymar hailed Atalanta, the team which captured the imagination of neutrals, reaching this stage despite their city of Bergamo being one of the worst hit by the coronavirus.
“Atalanta are a great team, they played very well, they are the surprise of the competition. They were very aggressive, we knew they were going to press us,” said Neymar.
“Now we’re going to have to rest, it was a tough game mentally.
Kylian Mbappe will be sidelined for “around three weeks” after spraining his ankle in the French Cup final, likely ruling him out of Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League quarter-final against Atalanta on August 12.
The France forward limped off in the first half of Friday’s 1-0 win over Saint-Etienne after a dreadful tackle that resulted in a red card for opposing captain Loic Perrin.
PSG said Monday medical imaging had confirmed the initial test results of a sprained right ankle, with Mbappe also sustaining ligament damage.
The club indicated the expected timeline for his return was “around three weeks”, meaning he will miss Friday’s French League Cup final against Lyon.
The diagnosis also leaves Mbappe a huge doubt for PSG’s resumption of their Champions League campaign, although the 21-year-old could be fit to return for the semi-finals if Thomas Tuchel’s side advance.
The latter stages of European club football’s flagship competition will be played in a unique straight knockout tournament in Lisbon due to the difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
PSG against Atalanta will be the first quarter-final of the ‘Final Eight’ mini tournament at the Estadio da Luz, with the semi-finals programmed for August 18-19 and the final to be held August 23.
Atalanta’s fairytale Champions League run continued inside an empty stadium on Tuesday as Josip Ilicic scored four times in a 4-3 win over Valencia that sent his team into the quarter-finals 8-4 on aggregate.
A frantic contest inside an echoing Mestalla stadium was the first of several in the competition to be played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus, with 55,000 vacant seats creating a surreal atmosphere that was never likely to deliver a momentous Valencia comeback.
They had been tasked with overturning a 4-1 defeat from the opening game in Italy and any hopes were all-but dashed inside 90 seconds when Mouctar Diakhaby conceded the first of two penalties, each converted by Ilicic.
In between, Kevin Gameiro had levelled for Valencia and then scored again shortly after half-time before Ferran Torres lobbed in to leave the hosts needing three in just over 20 minutes.
Yet any chance of a revival was quickly snuffed out as Ilicic completed his hat-trick and added a fourth to ensure Atalanta ended a strange evening with their names in the draw on March 20.
The Slovenia international also became the first player to score four times away from home in a Champions League knockout match.
Atalanta’s progress remains the greatest surprise of this year’s tournament, in which they lost all three of their opening group games and are featuring for the first time in the club’s 113-year history.
“After a difficult start to this competition, we got the hang of it,” said coach Gian Piero Gasperini afterwards.
All the more the shame then that their advance on the back of two brilliant victories over Valencia was overshadowed by the sight of a Champions League knock-out tie being played with only a handful of stadium staff in the stands.
The shouts of the players were audible throughout while in the first half Valencia seemingly projected crowd noise through a sound system, although it was later turned off when hopes of a comeback had disappeared.
Valencia’s supporters had gathered outside the stadium before kick-off to welcome the team bus but none were allowed inside. Atalanta are based in Bergamo in northern Italy, one of the worst-hit regions in a country that has had 631 people killed by the virus so far.
After the final whistle, the players held up a shirt to a television camera that had the message, “Bergamo, this is for you!” written across the front.
“We are very happy with how we have represented a region that suffers so much,” said Gasperini.
Spain announced on Monday that all schools in the Madrid area will close on Wednesday while La Liga had confirmed earlier on Tuesday that all matches in the top two divisions will be played behind closed doors for two weeks at least.
The sense of deflation at not having any fans on hand was impossible to ignore because before even two minutes were up, Valencia were behind.
Diakhaby slid in to block Ilicic’s dummy-shot and scythed down the striker as he turned back. Ilicic drove the penalty down the middle for his 18th goal of the season.
Valencia equalised after Atalanta conceded possession cheaply in midfield and Rodrigo slid in Gameiro to finish, but Ilicic converted a second penalty before half-time, after Diakhaby feathered the ball with his hand.
Gameiro made it 2-2 by heading in Torres’ cross and then Torres found the net himself, lifting the ball over Marco Sportiello to give Valencia some hope with 23 minutes left.
But four minutes later, Ilicic completed his treble with a driven shot into the corner and with progress secured, he grabbed the win too when the ball spilled out to him at the back post and he guided it into the top corner.
Valencia will attempt an unlikely comeback without their fans on Tuesday when they play Atalanta in the Champions League behind closed doors due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Retrieving a 4-1 defeat from the first leg in Italy was always going to be a formidable task for Valencia but looks even more so after UEFA instructed their home tie at Mestalla be played in an empty stadium to limit the spread in Spain.
Atalanta are based in Bergamo in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, one of the worst-hit areas in the country. Italy had registered more than 7,000 cases of coronavirus on Monday.
Spain has been less affected so far, with just under 1,000 confirmed cases on Monday and 37 in the Valencian Community, which includes Castellon, Valencia and Alicante.
Valencia announced on February 28 they would be suspending all non-sporting activity with the club’s first-team players after a journalist attending the opening fixture against Atalanta on February 19 was confirmed to have been infected.
It meant all engagement with the media before and after subsequent matches against Real Betis on February 29 and Alaves on Friday was cancelled, while a tribute to the club’s former player David Villa was also called off.
But the last-16 meeting with Atalanta will be Valencia’s first to be contested behind closed doors and, in theory, puts them at a significant disadvantage in their bid to reach the Champions League’s quarter-finals.
Valencia captain Dani Parejo expressed anger last week at what he perceives as inconsistency in the approach of the authorities to football matches.
“I am the first to be concerned about the crisis and that is why I am also first to feel indignant when I see the measures taken are not consistent,” Parejo said.
“I don’t understand how a global crisis can be managed in Spain depending on the region in which you live.”
Parejo added: “If it’s dangerous for people to attend Mestalla, it’s also dangerous at the Parc des Princes, at Anfield, at the Red Bull Arena, at the Etihad [Stadium], at Camp Nou, at the Allianz [Stadium] in Turin and at the Allianz [Arena] in Munich.”
Despite heavy restrictions on travel in and out of northern Italy, Atalanta were able to fly to Spain on Monday morning although media events usually scheduled for the day before a Champions League fixture were cancelled.
Atalanta have played only once since their thumping first-leg victory over Valencia, a 7-2 win on March 1 away at Lecce, who are based in southern Italy. Atalanta fans attending the game underwent medical checks before entering the ground.
Only five Serie A matches were staged on Sunday, with all of the games played in front of empty stands.
Italian sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora has insisted matches should be suspended completely and accused Serie A of being “irresponsible” for allowing some to go ahead.