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Atalanta battle Roma for Champions League after making history

Atalanta face Roma this weekend in Serie A. Photo: Isabella Bonotto/AFP

Atalanta head into Sunday’s Serie A top-five showdown with dejected Roma on the highest of highs after reaching their first-ever European final on the greatest night of the club’s 117-year history.

Used to punching above their weight, traditionally tiny Atalanta keep reaching new heights under Gian Piero Gasperini and will face Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League final on May 22 after yet another swashbuckling performance against sorry Marseille on Thursday night.

In eight brilliant years under Gasperini Atalanta have failed to win the trophy their often thrilling football has deserved but now have the chance to claim two in seven days as they also face Juventus in the Italian Cup on Wednesday.

Just getting to those two finals is a remarkable achievement for a club whose only major honour is the 1963 Italian Cup, while the furthest Atalanta had previously gone in European competition was the last four in the 1988 Cup Winners’ Cup when they were a second division team.

But the rough-and-ready days of Serie B are long gone as the well-organised club led by the local Percassi family continue to progress beyond their station while still staying true to their home town of Bergamo.

Fireworks were fired from behind the stands long before the final whistle at the Gewiss Stadium, their own sparkling new arena and built on the site of the old, ramshackled and city-owned Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia.

When finished, scheduled for the start of next season, the ground will hold 25,000 supporters drawn almost entirely from the city and province of Bergamo, which is nestled at the foot of the Alps and was the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic when Atalanta were cruelly denied a Champions League semi-final by Paris Saint-Germain in 2020.

“Maybe the final is between two clubs that don’t make the TV companies very happy, but it will give hope to plenty of teams,” Gasperini told reporters. 

“You can play good football without having millions of fans all over the world. Football is also about the fans we all saw in the stadium tonight in Bergamo.”

A good chunk of those fans will be shaking off hangovers on Friday morning after thousands flooded into the centre of Bergamo to celebrate their team’s 4-1 aggregate thumping of Marseille.

Downbeat Roma

Their buoyant mood contrasts sharply with Roma’s, who came close to completing a remarkable comeback against Leverkusen in Thursday’s other Europa League semi only to suffer late heartbreak in Germany.

Daniele De Rossi’s team have been running on fumes for weeks and now have to break back into the top five if they are to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 2018.

Goal difference separates Roma from Atalanta, who have a game in hand and are nestled in the fifth and final spot for Europe’s top club competition, and De Rossi needs to pick his team up following their 4-2 aggregate defeat to never-losing Leverkusen.

“Obviously we’re in very different moods, they are in the Europa League Final and we’re not, but we didn’t need that for us to know how good they are,” said De Rossi to Sky Sport.

“We knew it would be tough tonight, that we’d be battling hard, but I cannot ask for anything more from these players.”

Roma’s talisman Paulo Dybala sat out Thursday’s painful elimination, which came after Leandro Paredes levelled the tie at two apiece with a brace of penalties, and De Rossi said that the Argentina international had not fully recovered from a thigh injury picked up last weekend against Juventus.

De Rossi will also be without Leonardo Spinazzola on Sunday after the Italy full-back pulled up early on Sunday night as he tries to hold back Atalanta’s wave of positivity.

Standings provided by Sofascore

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