When Ferland Mendy curled his shot into the net with his right foot, you could forgive Gian Piero Gasperini for thinking the Gods were against him.
Atalanta had gone down to 10 men early against Real Madrid in controversial circumstances, Duvan Zapata had limped off and now this.
However, when the dust settles, the side from Bergamo can look back at this clash against Zinedine Zidane’s side with pride and hope for the next leg.
Several UK betting sites,such as SBO, the place to go for all your betting needs and where you can compare hundreds of bookies, highlighted they had everything go wrong. Still, they came out with only a one-goal deficit. This tie is far from dead and the next leg will be scintillating.
Bergamo sits in the Alps' southern foothills between the Brembo and Serio rivers; it is a beautiful place to visit, but it was not for Zidane. The French coach was well aware that his team had come away from the game with a positive result and a warning.
Perhaps, it would have been better if, after so much pressure, an 11-man Atalanta had capitulated from a goal Madrid richly deserved.
Then maybe confidence would have been low before the trip to the Valdebebas. This however, was not the case, far from it, instead the officiating had altered the game and the resilient defence is now seen as a victory in itself. Atalanta are angry and this will be a problem for Real.
Talking about this game and not mentioning the referee, would be like talking about Catholicism and not mentioning the Pope. Tobias Steele had a huge impact on the match after he sent off Remo Freuler after he challenged Ferland Mendy who was through on goal.
The tackle itself seemed innocuous at best and yet a flash of red meant that ‘La Dea’ had to play 73 minutes with 10 men. There was no VAR used, as the referee’s bizarre confidence in his decision was steadfast. Atalanta then had to embark on their version of the Alamo as Madrid went on to have 18 attempts and 68% of possession.
Gasperini was enraged stating, “The game was ruined. Last season, after absolute chaos, the handball rule was sorted out. Now we have the temptation to remove any form of contact in football and that is suicide for the sport.”
Whilst the anger maybe justified, the positives are that Atalanta delivered a very mature performance against one of Europe’s most elite teams. Defensively they did not panic and Gasperini showed one again how tactically perceptive he was.
In turn, Real will look at this game and realise that the return leg will be a battle, as 11 v 11 will offer a totally different dynamic.
Atalanta certainly do not know when they a beaten that is for sure. Even after being five goals down against Liverpool in the Champions League, they still found enough fight to win the second leg 2-0 back in 2020.
Duvan Zapata seems like he will be fit for the next leg as his injury has been classed a simply a twinge and this will also be a boost. Even if he had been injured, the beauty of this Atalanta team is how interchangeable it is. If any player in the starting eleven is injured, they have a replacement in every position who can come on and fill the gap adequately.
This is testament to the recruitment, the tactics and the mentality of the squad.
No more has this been evident than this season. Whilst Papu Gomez and Josip Ilicic looked at as indispensable last campaign, ‘La Dea’ showed this term how they are not.
Ilicic had personal problems and was out of the squad early in the season, they coped adequately. Papu Gomez fell out with the coach and was packed off to Spain, again they coped. This beautiful ability have a balance in the team that means that the quality between started and substitute is so thin, it enables them to keep going no matter what.
The second leg will be a tie that nobody will want to miss. There is no guarantee of course, yet Atalanta will travel to Madrid with purpose.
What last night did for the side from Bergamo was once again show Europe that they are no pluck underdogs, they are not just glad to be here. Far from it, they are angry that they did not get to fight Real 11 v 11 because they firmly believe that they would have won.