Nouveau riche Paris Saint-Germain against provincial Atalanta in the Champions League was always going to be cast as a rags against riches encounter, in which the Bergamo-based side could not lose whatever the outcome at the Estadio da Luz on Wednesday night.
However, their inability to punish a stumbling PSG and magnitude of collapse during the final minutes in Lisbon, both denied them a place amongst the top four sides in European competition this season and highlighted how they abandoned their principles when it mattered most.
Ahead of the quarter-final clash, La Dea had conceded significantly more goals than their rivals – 17 in eight games – but an equally impressive goal haul at the opposite end of the pitch helped masked defensive frailties, as they entertained the continent.
For the seventh time in nine Champions League games this term Atalanta took the lead – through a wonderful curling effort from Mario Pasalic – but, after carrying the advantage into the break, chose defensive pragmatism over their usual swashbuckling attacking approach.
There had been signs during the first half that Gian Piero Gasperini was wary of the multi-million euro attacking talents available to the Paris club, but a number of near misses from Brazilian starlet Neymar should have indicated that a clean sheet in Portugal was unlikely.
One wonders whether, had the former Barcelona attacker not woefully fired wide when one-on-one with Marco Sportiello and given PSG the lead after three minutes, Atalanta would have been forced to fight fire with fire and written a different ending to their Champions League fairytale.
Instead, the Bergamasci decided that defensive resolve was the best way to cling on to their lead and allowed the Ligue 1 champions to have 17 shots at their replacement goalkeeper. Only against Valencia in the first leg of the Round of 16 had they conceded more, but with four goals that night it mattered little.
After an extended domestic campaign, when they also attempted to hunt down Serie A leaders Juventus, the Atalanta players were finally showing signs of fatigue. Collecting six yellow cards and committing 29 fouls – the most in a single Champions League match since 2016.
It obviously helps if, like PSG, you are able to bring nearly €300 million worth of talent off the substitutes bench to challenge tired bodies and minds, particularly when one of those players is World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe, but that is nothing they would not have expected pre-match.
Unfortunately, regardless of the disproportionate wealth between the two sides, Atalanta will have to concede that they missed the chance to write the biggest page in their recent history through an inability to follow the attacking principles that had carried them this far.