Tuesday March 10 2020
CL: Four-star Ilicic puts Atalanta in quarters!

Atalanta are in the Champions League quarter-finals after a 4-3 thriller away to Valencia, 8-4 on aggregate, with an historic Josip Ilicic scoring all four goals.

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La Dea had a 4-1 lead from the first leg at San Siro in this Round of 16 during their first ever Champions League campaign. Berat Djimsiti stepped back in, Rafael Toloi was injured and Pierluigi Gollini a late absentee with a dislocated little finger, so Marco Sportiello made only his fourth appearance of the season. Valencia had Alessandro Florenzi, Francis Coquelin, Kang-In Lee, Rodrigo, Kevin Gameiro and Jasper Cillessen back in the squad, but Gabriel was suspended, with Ezequiel Garay, Maxi Gomez, Cristiano Piccini and Manu Vallejo injured.

It was played behind closed doors due to the Coronavirus outbreak, which has caused the suspension of Serie A until April 3, so the hosts piped loud recorded chants into the empty Mestalla.

It was the perfect start for Atalanta, because Josip Ilicic skipped past one tackle, cut back past another and was eventually tripped by Mouctar Diakhaby. The Slovenian converted the penalty himself, hitting it through the centre past Jesper Cillessen to give Atalanta the lead on the night, 5-1 on aggregate.

Rodrigo stung Sportiello’s gloves from distance, but the equaliser came thanks to a series of errors. Marten de Roon lost the ball in midfield, Jose Luis Palomino’s sliding block was ineffective on a Rodrigo slide-rule pass, serving only to keep the ball there for Kevin Gameiro to score from a tight angle.

A Robin Gosens cross only skimmed Hans Hateboer’s head, then Mario Pasalic turned the resulting corner wide, while Papu Gomez’s audacious lob landed on the roof of the net.

Just as Atalanta were under pressure, Valencia shot themselves in the foot with another Diakhaby error. This time, he flailed his arm to push the ball away from Ilicic just inside the box for a second penalty. Ilicic converted again, choosing to hit this one hard into the near bottom corner.

Marten de Roon had to come off after an accidental knock to the eye, so Duvan Zapata came on, moving Mario Pasalic back into midfield.

Diakhaby was substituted after a nightmare first half, with Goncalo Guedes coming on, Geoffrey Kondogbia moving into a three-man defence.

Remo Freuler thought he’d made it 3-1 with a scorcher that cracked against the crossbar, flying over Cillessen’s fingertips.

However, moments later, Valencia equalised when Palomino again gave it away cheaply, allowing Ferran Torres to whip his cross from the right on to Kevin Gameiro’s head.

Ilicic was about to finish off a well-worked team move only for his shot to be accidentally blocked by Pasalic, but Valencia took the lead for the first time on the night. There was more shaky defending and goalkeeping as Ferran Torres ran on to a through ball and lobbed the on-rushing Sportiello.

Duvan Zapata’s angled drive forced Cillessen into a tricky save with his leg, Valencia failed to finish off another dangerous counter, which allowed Atalanta in turn to counter and Ilicic completed his hat-trick with a left-foot strike into the near bottom corner. The 32-year-old Slovenian became the oldest ever player to score a Champions League away hat-trick.

He hadn’t finished yet, as Ilicic then placed a perfect shot with the inside of the left boot into the far top corner at the end of a wonderful team move, assisted by Freuler. It was an historic event, as Ilicic became the first player ever to score four goals in an away Champions League knockout match. Simone Inzaghi, Lionel Messi, Mario Gomez and Robert Lewandowski had done it at home.

Sportiello had some glory too, making a tough save on the Ferran Torres free kick from a tight angle.

Valencia 3-4 Atalanta (4-8 agg)

Ilicic pen 3, pen 43, 71, 82 (A), Gameiro 21, 51 (V), Ferran Torres 67 (V)

Valencia: Cillessen; Wass, Coquelin (Cheryshev 74), Diakhaby (Goncalo Guedes 46), Gayà; Ferran Torres, Parejo, Kondogbia, Soler; Rodrigo (Florenzi 78), Gameiro

Atalanta: Sportiello; Djimsiti, Caldara, Palomino; Hateboer, De Roon (Duvan Zapata 44), Freuler, Gosens; Pasalic; Gomez (Malinovskyi 78), Ilicic

Ref: Hategan (ROU)