Atalanta claimed three vital points in their pursuit to make the Champions League knockout stages once again by beating Young Boys at the Gewiss Stadium on Wednesday night.
It was not a game that will live long in the memory for many fans based on what happened on the pitch. Atalanta were certainly deserved winners, but it was not a performance with the sort of attacking intensity we have come to expect from Gian Piero Gasperini’s side.
Atalanta show professionalism and maturity in the Champions League
Atalanta started sharply against the Swiss side and they had the ball in the net after 16 minutes. A well-worked free-kick saw Rafael Toloi knock the ball back across the face of the goal before it was turned into his own net by Sandro Lauper.
That was then ruled out by the Video Assistant Referee for a clear offside on Toloi, but it showed Atalanta that there was a way through the very stubborn defence in front of them.
Despite the threat that Young Boys still posed when they came forward, Atalanta were dominant throughout the match and registered eight shots on target.
The breakthrough finally came for La Dea with just over 20 minutes left to play. Duvan Zapata worked incredibly hard to work his way into the box on the right-hand side before he flashed the ball across the face of goal.
Matteo Pessina was rushing in whilst under pressure from a defender and managed to get a toe on the ball and direct it into the roof of the net. The relief amongst the squad and the fans was palpable. Everyone in the Gewiss stadium clearly knew that if Atalanta are to qualify from the group, they really needed to beat Young Boys at home.
A seismic evening for Bergamo
For Atalanta and the people of Bergamo, this game represented more than a vital three points in the Champions League group stage. It resembled some sort of light at the end of the tunnel following the public health nightmare that was partially created by their last Champions League home game with fans in attendance.
Following the round of 16 first leg at San Siro in February 2020 that saw Atalanta beat Valencia 4-1 and all but secure their place in the quarter-final for the first time ever, there was a sharp increase in coronavirus cases in the whole country, but particularly in Bergamo.
Atalanta did what Atalanta do in their first ever Champions League knockout game as they hammered Valencia 4-1 and @ConJClancy was there for #FIFatttheGames.
Report ? https://t.co/hU03oj9R46#AtalantaValencia #ATAVAL #UCL pic.twitter.com/zqX1xMpDyy
— ForzaItalianFootball (@SerieAFFC) February 19, 2020
Around 44,000 fans attended that match and it was the last time they would see their team play in this tournament until Wednesday. In the weeks and months following that match, Bergamo became the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe. The city had a six-hour wait for ambulances in March 2020, and 16-hour waits in the emergency room. There were 92 patients on ventilators, which is a startling amount considering by September 2020 there were 143 people on ventilators in the whole of Italy.
In April 2020, an investigation by Eco di Bergamo determined that 4,500 people in Bergamo were killed by the coronavirus in March 2020.
Ci sono emozioni che non si possono spiegare… ?
There are emotions that you can’t explain… ?#AtalantaYoungBoys #UCL #GoAtalantaGo ??? pic.twitter.com/ZLIerXXTTZ
— Atalanta B.C. (@Atalanta_BC) September 29, 2021
For a club of Atalanta’s stature and history, to be competing in the Champions League for the third season running is a remarkable achievement. To have done much of it without the fans in attendance is a grave shame for every supporter, but this season they have a chance to turn on the style against some of the continents best teams, in front of their adoring supporters, in their own stadium, in their own city, that has been through so much.
The suffering is of course still not over for many, but this match taking place at Atalanta’s home ground with a large percentage of the fan base in attendance represents monumental progress from what was the darkest time that the city and many of its inhabitants have ever experienced.