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.
Israel has offered to host Champions League and Euro 2020 matches if the COVID-19 pandemic forces them to be moved from other countries.
The Israeli proposal follows the moving of several Champions League matches from Germany and Spain to Hungary, Romania and other countries as a result of coronavirus restrictions on travel.
Israel Football Association’s top officials spoke with UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin last week “about the possibility of hosting some of the Euro 2020 games in Israel, as well as the crucial stages of Champions League and Europa League games”, a spokesman for the association said on Wednesday.
A UEFA spokesman said however it was currently aiming to hold all of its competitions “in the cities that have already been chosen and is working hard with its partners and stakeholders to ensure that happens.”
UEFA insists it is sticking to its original plan of playing Euro 2020, delayed a year because of the pandemic, in 12 host cities spread across Europe despite the logistical and sanitary challenges.
Israel is the global leader in Covid vaccinations per capita. On Tuesday the country of about nine million people delivered a shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to its four millionth citizen.
UEFA is not planning any imminent changes to the format for the upcoming Champions League knockout stages or to its plans to hold the delayed Euro 2020 this year despite ongoing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and other sporting events being cancelled.
“As far as the Euro is concerned nothing has changed,” a spokesperson for European football’s governing body told AFP.
Postponed last year, Euro 2020 is now scheduled to go ahead from June 11 to July 11 this year.
However, even if it does go ahead, it is uncertain whether it will be possible to stage the tournament as planned in 12 cities across 12 different countries, spread far and wide over the continent.
“Given the health situation, personally I think that the original idea of a competition spread all over Europe has little chance of going ahead,” Dominique Blanc, head of the Swiss Football Association, said in an interview with Swiss media this week.
The semi-finals and final are due to be played in London, but England is currently in lockdown as it grapples with an upsurge in infections related to a new variant of the Covid-19 virus.
The UEFA source told AFP that a decision will be made “city by city” by March 5 with four options on the table: “100 percent of spectators in the stadium, between 50 and 100 percent, between 20 and 30 percent, or behind closed doors.”
In recent days the Formula One Australian and Chinese Grand Prix were both postponed, while a prestigious World Cup skiing event at Wengen in Switzerland was called off due to increasing Covid-19 cases in the area.
Meanwhile, the European Champions and Challenge Cups in rugby union have been put on hold after the French government said the Covid-19 variant in Britain made it too risky for its clubs to face opponents from the United Kingdom.
The UEFA Champions League knockout stages are due to begin with the opening last 16, first legs on February 16.
Calls are growing in some quarters for athletes to be given priority access to vaccinations, but UEFA insist “it is too early to make any decision” regarding a new medical protocol for its competitions.
In his interview, Swiss FA chief Blanc floated two possible solutions for the Euro, with one being to hold the tournament in one country, “in Russia or in Germany, for example”.
Another would be to repeat the format for the closing stages of last year’s Champions League in Lisbon by bringing all teams together to play games in one city “with enough stadiums to host all six groups. That could be the case of London.”
In any case, he said, “we are heading towards a different Euro, undoubtedly without fans”.
Manchester United’s third appearance in a Champions League final in four years in 2011 was proof they had established themselves as European football heavyweights.
But their ejection at the group stage of this season’s competition at the hands of RB Leipzig on Tuesday is yet more stark evidence of how far they have fallen since the Alex Ferguson era.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men battled hard last season just to qualify for the Champions League and had one foot in the knockout stages after an away win against Paris Saint-Germain followed by a 5-0 hammering of Leipzig at Old Trafford.
But a shock defeat away to Istanbul Basaksehir made life difficult and a home defeat to PSG followed by the 3-2 defeat in Germany dumped them out of the competition.
United now have to contemplate an unwanted run in the Europa League, Europe’s second-tier competition, which they won in 2017.
The three-time European champions still see themselves as continental royalty but their record over the past decade makes for grim reading.
Since the 2011 final, in which they were beaten by Barcelona, the furthest they have gone is the quarter-finals, in 2014 and 2019.
They have won just two individual knockout matches in the Champions League in 10 seasons.
Solskjaer took responsibility for United’s chastening exit in Leipzig, after his side went 3-0 down before mounting a late and ultimately fruitless comeback.
“We didn’t perform as a team well enough and that’s always the manager’s responsibility, to get everyone ready,” he said.
“We knew they were going to come at us, we knew they were going to put crosses in the box and unfortunately we conceded two goals and we never got going.”
United were inches away from pulling off one of their trademark miracle comebacks but it was not to be.
– ‘Need a plan’ – The late drama should not obscure the problems United face — they looked disorganised at the back after switching to a back five and were outclassed by last season’s semi-finalists in the first half.
Captain Harry Maguire said the players had to look at themselves.
“It’s a tough group but we felt we should get through,” he told BT Sport. “That’s the standards of this club. I’m gutted for everyone, we worked so hard to reach this competition. No matter what group we got, it would be tough. We have to do more.”
Former United players Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes, who were crucial parts of Ferguson’s teams, believe United need more of an identity and want to see an end to the chopping and changing of personnel and formations.
“I think Manchester United need to have a plan, a strategy of playing consistently, so that players can start to build relationships based off of memory, based off of knowing where people are going to be on the pitch,’ Ferdinand told BT Sport.
‘Until you do that, you won’t have sustained success. You might have the odd result, but you will not have consistency which they are lacking.’
The club remain committed to Solskjaer, whose exploits as a player mean he retains great credit with supporters.
But there is a sense that they are only ever one or two games from a crisis and the speculation over the Norwegian manager’s future never entirely disappears.
Former United defender Phil Neville robustly defended his former team-mate after the defeat.
“There are managers in the Premier league that are below Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that have got great reputations that don’t get the stick that Ole gets,” he said.
“The narrative from inside the club is far different from outside, where there just seems to be a total witch-hunt to get this boy out of a job,” he added.
One handy habit Solskjaer does have is his ability to conjure up a big result after a major disappointment.
He has a chance to switch the narrative again on Saturday, at home to Manchester City.
Paris Saint-Germain’s decisive Champions League game with Istanbul Basaksehir on Tuesday was suspended in the first half as the players walked off amid allegations of racism by one of the match officials.
The row erupted after Basaksehir assistant coach Pierre Webo, the former Cameroon international, was shown a red card during a fierce row on the touchline with staff from the Turkish club appearing to accuse the Romanian fourth official of using a racist term.
Television microphones picked up a furious Webo repeatedly asking why a racist term had been used to describe him.
The game at the Parc des Princes stopped in the 14th minute, with the players walking off around 10 minutes later.
Basaksehir’s Senegal international striker Demba Ba, among the substitutes for the away side, could be heard remonstrating with the official, saying: “When you mention a white guy, you never say ‘this white guy’, you just say ‘this guy’, so why when you mention a black guy do you say ‘this black guy?'”
The match, being played behind closed doors because of the coronavirus pandemic, is decisive for PSG who need a draw to clinch qualification for the last 16 from Group H, which also contains RB Leipzig and Manchester United.
Stephanie Frappart became the first woman to referee a men’s Champions League game on Wednesday as Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 750th career goal in a 3-0 win for Juventus over Dynamo Kiev.
The 36-year-old Frappart has already made history as the first woman to referee in Ligue 1, and took charge of the 2019 UEFA Super Cup final between Liverpool and Chelsea. She also made her Europa League debut in October.
“Another barrier has been broken down, we know that she is very good, which is the most important and fundamental thing,” Juventus chief football officer Fabio Paratici said before the game of Frappart.
The Italian champions were already through to the last 16, along with Group G leaders Barcelona, but can still pip the Spaniards to the top spot, sitting three points behind them ahead of their trip to the Camp Nou next Tuesday.
“We’re ready for Barcelona,” said Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo, whose side lost 2-0 to Barca in Turin, a game Ronaldo missed with coronavirus.
“These are games that change the season in terms of self-esteem and we will go there to win.
“But first there’s the (Turin) derby and we need to focus on the league. Even if we are qualified, it’s important not only for the classification but for our progress.
“But I’m satisfied with the game and the approach of the guys. I’m young and I know I have to improve like my players, but I go on with my work.”
Juventus had few problems on the pitch against the Ukrainians who they had also beaten 2-0 in Kiev on October 20.
Federico Chiesa inspired the victory, scoring the opening goal on 21 minutes before helping Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata add two more in the second half.
Dynamo goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan kept out a Weston McKennie header on 17 minutes.
But five minutes later, ex-Fiorentina midfielder Chiesa got his head to an Alex Sandro cross to beat Bushchan for his first goal since joining Juventus two months ago.
Ronaldo hit the woodwork after half an hour, with Buschan also denying the Portuguese star early in the second half.
The visitors had few chances but Wojciech Szczesny did well to prevent Viktor Tsygankov from scoring an equaliser before the break.
Just before the hour mark, Italy’s Chiesa powered down the right-wing before sending in a low cross for Morata which Bushchan pushed into the path of Ronaldo to tap in from close range.
The 35-year-old extended his Champions League record to 132 goals in the competition and brought his tally for club and country to 750 goals.
Chiesa was again involved in the third goal with 25 minutes remaining, picking out the run of Morata, who took three touches before firing in his sixth Champions League goal of the season, having also scored a brace in Ukraine.
Olivier Giroud scored four goals as Chelsea romped to an impressive 4-0 victory at Sevilla on Wednesday to secure top spot in Champions League Group E.
The 34-year-old striker is the oldest player to score a hat-trick in the competition since Hungarian great Ferenc Puskas in 1965 for Real Madrid against Feyenoord.
He is also the first player to net four times in a Champions League match since Cristiano Ronaldo against Malmo five years ago.
“Amazing solo performance from Olivier. Delighted with him, delighted with the team. This is a difficult place to come,” Chelsea manager Frank Lampard, the last Chelsea player to score four goals in a game against Aston Villa in 2010, told BT Sport.
Both teams were already qualified for the last 16 before kick-off, but Giroud made the most of a rare start, scoring with his left foot, his right foot, and his head to see Chelsea through as group winners, also slotting in a penalty.
“I didn’t know until two years ago that you called it a perfect hat-trick when I scored (a treble) against (Dynamo) Kiev in (the) Europa League, I said ‘What do you mean?’ It was good, I had good assists though,” Giroud said.
“I will try to carry on like that — to finish the good job of the team and it’s always nice to be in the club history and we play football to mark our history, so I’m pleased to help the team to win and to score the four goals.”
The France international sent out a message to Lampard, with Timo Werner and Tammy Abraham seemingly above him in the pecking order, by making the absolute most of only his second start of the season.
“Let me enjoy the night and that great win and after that we will rest and we will see what the gaffer’s plan is,” Giroud said when asked if he was now expecting to start against Leeds United in the Premier League on Saturday.
Lampard will now be able to rest players for the final group game against Krasnodar at Stamford Bridge, with his side looking to improve on last season’s run to the last 16, where they were well beaten by eventual winners Bayern Munich.
Giroud wasted little time in putting Chelsea ahead, collecting Kai Havertz’s clever pass before cutting inside and bending a fine finish into the far corner in the eighth minute.
Sevilla were left frustrated as they saw two penalty appeals for handball turned down.
In the 20th minute, claims that Christian Pulisic handled were waved away by referee Artur Soares Dias after he checked the pitchside monitor.
The hosts had another penalty shout turned down following a lengthy VAR delay after an Ivan Rakitic free-kick struck the Chelsea wall.
Aside from those nervy moments, Lampard’s Blues were the more threatening, with Antonio Rudiger seeing a header cleared off the line before Alfonso Pastor kept out Pulisic’s low drive.
The home side started the second half brightly, as Jesus Navas picked out Nemanja Gudelj with a clever pass, but the Serbian international fired narrowly over.
Chelsea doubled their advantage in the 54th minute, though, as Giroud boosted his case for more game time further by latching onto Mateo Kovacic’s pass and clipping the ball over the Sevilla goalkeeper.
But he was not finished there, completing his first Champions League hat-trick since a treble against Olympiakos for Arsenal in 2015 with a looping header from N’Golo Kante’s cross.
Giroud rounded off a virtuoso display from the spot with seven minutes to play, scoring a spot-kick he had won himself.
Paris Saint-Germain took a huge step towards avoiding an embarrassing early exit from the Champions League and left Manchester United with work to do to reach the last 16 as Neymar scored twice in a 3-1 win at Old Trafford.
PSG, United and RB Leipzig are now all tied on nine points at the top of Group H with one game to go.
But the French champions are in the driving seat as they host eliminated Istanbul Basaksehir on Tuesday, while United need a point when they travel to Germany.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men were left to rue a host of huge chances early in the second half with the match poised at 1-1 after Marcus Rashford cancelled out Neymar’s early opener.
“We had some big chances, big moments and that’s the difference when you get to the big games,” said Solskjaer.
However, the United boss’ decision not to replace Fred before he was sent off seconds after Marquinhos scored PSG’s second was a naive mistake which cost his side.
The Brazilian midfielder had been lucky to escape a red card before half-time when he was only shown a yellow card after a headbutt on Leandro Paredes was reviewed.
“Fred shouldn’t put his head towards him, it’s either nothing or a red card, he’s a bit lucky to stay on,” conceded Solskjaer, who admitted to considering making a change at half-time.
“We spoke about staying calm, staying on your feet and the second one is nowhere near a yellow card.”
Leipzig’s late winner in a 4-3 thrillier in Istanbul earlier on Wednesday piled the pressure on PSG to win and keep their fate in their own hands going into matchday six.
The visitors started brightly in response and went in front after just six minutes when Neymar pounced on Kylian Mbappe’s deflected shot to drill low past David de Gea.
Fred’s first lucky escape came on 24 minutes as Italian referee Daniele Orsato decided a yellow card was sufficient after reviewing the headbutt incident.
Tuchel was furious when United needed just eight more minutes to make the most of that reprieve when Rashford’s shot took a wicked deflection off Danilo to wrong-foot Keylor Navas.
Fred was fortunate again moments later when he trod on Paredes, but it was the Argentine who was booked.
But if PSG’s luck was out before the break, they got the let-off they needed at the start of the second period through United’s profligacy.
Anthony Martial somehow blazed over with the goal at his mercy after brilliant work from Rashford and Edinson Cavani.
Cavani is PSG’s record goalscorer after scoring 200 times in seven seasons at the Parc des Princes, but the Uruguayan was allowed to leave for free when his contract expired in June.
The 33-year-old was inches away from exacting revenge with a delicate chip over Navas that came back off the crossbar before Marquinhos’s brave block denied Martial again.
Tuchel’s future as PSG boss would be plunged into doubt by a failure to progress from the group stage, but he made a telling contribution with a change of system to shore up his side’s susceptibility on the counter-attack as Ander Herrera and Mitchel Bakker were introduced.
De Gea produced an incredible save from Bakker low to his left, but that only delayed PSG retaking the lead by a few seconds as, from the resulting corner, the ball broke for Marquinhos to prod home from close range.
“We knew the little details would make the difference,” Marquinhos told RMC Sport. “They didn’t take their chances, we took ours and we are delighted tonight.
“In the second half, we had the courage and personality to play and take risks. The coach gave us confidence, telling us to take risks. It worked and we are really pleased.”
Less than a minute after the goal, United were finally down to 10 men as Fred’s luck ran out despite playing the ball before tripping Herrera.
United still came close to salvaging the point they needed to qualify as substitute Paul Pogba’s sweetly struck volley flew just over before Bruno Fernandes headed too close to Navas.
But PSG gained some measure of revenge for their stunning Champions League elimination to United in 2019 by sealing a huge win with a third in stoppage time when Neymar rolled home Rafinha’s cut-back.
Antoine Griezmann struck for the third game running as Barcelona beat Ferencvaros 3-0 on Wednesday to keep their 100 percent record intact in this season’s Champions League group stage.
Ronald Koeman again rested Lionel Messi with qualification for the last 16 already assured, and Barca made it five wins from five in Group G with an impressive performance in Budapest.
France striker Griezmann has struggled to find his best form since joining from Atletico Madrid almost 18 months ago, but the 29-year-old appears belatedly to be hitting his stride under Koeman.
While Barca lag 10 points off the pace in Spain, albeit with games in hand, the Catalans can complete a perfect group-stage campaign for the first time since 2002-03 with victory at home to Juventus next week.
They will finish top of the section if they avoid defeat.
“We played well. We’ve won five matches out of five, playing some good football and scoring quite a few goals. I hope we can continue this run in the league,” Koeman told Movistar.
“We saw that we have a very good team. We were able to rest several players, but those who played showed we have the expertise.”
Despite the absence of Messi, goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Philippe Coutinho and injured pair Gerard Pique and Ansu Fati, a heavily rotated Barca ripped the Hungarian champions apart in the opening half-hour.
Griezmann’s clever back-heel flick from a Jordi Alba cross set the visitors on their way 14 minutes into a freezing night at the Puskas Arena.
Martin Braithwaite soon poked in a second from a similar position following an Ousmane Dembele assist, capping a 33-pass move with his fourth goal in three games.
Dembele crashed home a penalty after Braithwaite was upended by Abraham Frimpong, with Koeman withdrawing Alba and Sergio Busquets at half-time and giving some playing time to youngsters Carles Alena, Riqui Puig and Konrad de la Fuente.
Borussia Dortmund reached the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday despite Lazio captain Ciro Immobile scoring a second-half penalty against his former club in a 1-1 draw in Germany.
The result at Signal Iduna Park means leaders Dortmund need a win at Zenit St Petersburg next Tuesday to be sure of progressing as Group F winners.
Lazio, who are second and a point behind the Germans, will also go through if they draw at home to Club Brugge the same night.
Immobile, who failed to make his mark in the Bundesliga after an unhappy 2014/15 season at Dortmund, converted a 67th-minute penalty to cancel out Raphael Guerreiro’s goal just before half-time.
The draw could have come at a cost as Dortmund defender Mats Hummels had to be helped off after Immobile trod on his ankle in the dying stages.
Even though their star striker Erling Braut Haaland dropped out just before kick-off, Dortmund did enough to reach the knockout stages.
Haaland, the top scorer in the Champions League this season with six goals in four games, was sidelined by a leg injury.
Dortmund have not said how long he will be out for.
In his absence, captain Marco Reus moved further upfront and Dortmund deservedly went ahead just before the break.
Lazio’s veteran goalkeeper Pepe Reina, 38, played out a weak clearance which was snapped up by Dortmund midfielder Thomas Delaney.
The Dane moved the ball quickly to Guerreiro, who passed off to teenager Giovanni Reyna and sprinted into the area onto Thorgan Hazard’s final pass, which he fired past Reina a minute before half-time.
However, Immobile was a constant menace for Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Burki, who palmed away a fierce shot with an hour gone.
Guerreiro made way for Nico Schulz as Dortmund head coach Lucien Favre strengthed his defence, but the substitution soon had repercussions.
Schulz had only been on three minutes when he lunged into a clearance in the area and made contact with Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
Lazio were awarded a penalty which Immobile duly converted.
Lazio finished the stronger and only a superb diving save by Burki just before the final whistle pushed Immobile’s well-struck effort around the post.
Immobile collided with Hummels late on and the 2014 World Cup winner needed assistance in leaving the pitch.
Real Madrid suffered a second defeat at the hands of Shakhtar Donetsk in this season’s Champions League, going down 2-0 to the Ukrainians in Kiev on Tuesday to leave their hopes of reaching the last 16 in the balance.
Substitutes Dentinho and Manor Solomon both scored second-half goals as Shakhtar stunned the 13-time European champions again, having already won 3-2 in Madrid in October.
Shakhtar had lost their last two Group B matches against Borussia Moenchengladbach by an aggregate score of 10-0, but this victory allowed them to move above Real into second place in the group with one game remaining.
Gladbach top the section, while Shakhtar now have the upper hand on Real thanks to their superior head-to-head record, while this result also means Inter Milan retain an outside chance of qualifying before their game later.
Madrid have made it out of their group in every year since 1997. If Gladbach beat Inter later, Real will no longer have their destiny in their own hands going into the final round next week.
Zinedine Zidane’s team were returning to the scene of their victory over Liverpool in the 2018 final, but they looked a shadow of their former selves in the snow in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium, and the result further underlined how much they miss defensive talisman Sergio Ramos when he is not there.
This was Real’s seventh defeat in the last nine Champions League matches they have played without Ramos, who is currently injured.
Perhaps this game would have turned out differently had Marco Asensio scored in the fifth minute rather than turn Karim Benzema’s cross onto the post, but they went on to slump to a third defeat in their last five matches in all competitions.
Dentinho had replaced the injured Junior Moraes in the first half and the Brazilian got the opening goal just before the hour mark.
Ferland Mendy intercepted a Viktor Kovalenko ball into the box but only succeeded in laying it on a plate for Dentinho to tuck past Thibaut Courtois and in.
The Ukrainian champions then made sure of their victory on the counter-attack with eight minutes remaining as Israeli international Solomon picked up the ball on halfway and advanced unchallenged before picking his spot.