Sunday, June 16, 2024

Atalanta Can End 61-Year Wait For Trophy In Europa League Final

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Atalanta have a date with history and Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday when the Italians aim to become the first team to beat the new German champions this season and win their first ever European final. Gian Piero Gasperini’s side have in the Dublin Europa League final another shot at winning a first trophy in 61 years after losing the Italian Cup final against Juventus last week. The traditionally small club from Bergamo travel to Ireland in high spirits after securing a spot in next season’s revamped Champions League. Star forwards Charles De Ketelaere and Gianluca Scamacca secured a 2-0 win at Lecce on Saturday which guaranteed Atalanta at least fifth spot in Serie A and led to a hero’s welcome from supporters after they returned from Italy’s extreme south. 

Hundreds of fans waited under torrential rain for their team at the Zingonia training centre outside Bergamo, greeting them with flares, flags and fireworks, loudly expressing their appreciation at another brilliant season under Gasperini which may yet become the best in the club’s 117-year history.

“Qualifying for the Champions League is best we can achieve at Atalanta, it’s not like we can aim to win Serie A,” Gasperini told reporters on Saturday.

“We were a bit tired in the final with Juventus… between now and Wednesday we need to make sure that we’re the very best version our ourselves.”

Atalanta will be missing key midfielder Marten De Roon to a hamstring knock picked up during the Italian Cup final, an injury which Gasperini called the “real loss” of that evening.

Gasperini can however count on the brilliant form of Scamacca and De Ketelaere, who will start on Wednesday, and potentially the return of defender Sead Kolasinac as the 66-year-old tries to win his first final in his eight-year reign in Bergamo after losing his previous three.

Belgium forward De Ketelaere has been a revelation since being loaned to Atalanta from AC Milan with a 24 million euro option to buy last summer, scoring 14 goals and setting up eight more as he slotted perfectly into Gasperini’s attack-minded set-up.

“I don’t know if I’ll be in Bergamo next year. I just concentrate on my football and we’ll see what happens,” said De Ketelaere on Saturday.

“Gasperini’s style of play gives me confidence. I’m disappointed that I didn’t do at Milan what I’ve done with Atalanta, but I’ve had a great season here.”

A provincial club playing in the shadow of the Milanese giants down the road, Atalanta have reached new heights, reaching the Champions League four times, since Gasperini took over.

Atalanta have managed to overtake traditionally bigger clubs like Fiorentina and Lazio while maintaining close ties with their local community and are one of the few Serie A teams to own their stadium, whose reshaping into a modern arena should be complete for the start of next season. 

And their run through the Europa League knockouts has taken them past Sporting Lisbon, Liverpool and Marseille, all more storied teams with vastly bigger fan bases and at least one European honour in their trophy cabinet.

Atalanta have already experienced their two greatest ever nights against Liverpool and Marseille as their run to the 2020 Champions League quarter-finals came at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic which devastated Bergamo.

They might start as underdogs in Dublin against another giant-killer in Leverkusen but have almost nothing to lose after going further than anyone ever expected.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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