The state of Italy is not good. The whole nation is somewhat under an unofficial quarantine due to the Coronavirus attack. The Serie A matches and all other sporting activities have been suspended until further official notice. The number of affected patients by the virus is increasing each day as the whole of Italy is gripped by fear and anxiety.

They needed something to cheer.

Atalanta gifted them.

Adversity motivated them.

The stands at Mestalla were empty due to precautions against Coronavirus. The statute of Valencia superfan Vicente Navvaro had been the lone spectator. Outside the stadium, the fans gathered to cheer for the home team, but alas, their beloved Valencia failed to halt Atalanta and crashed out of the Champions League in another classic encounter. Most importantly, the fans failed to witness a classic at Mestalla.

Atalanta advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in their history. Their Champions League campaign is turning out to be a fairytale. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men traveled to Valencia on the back of a comprehensive 4-1 win at San Siro and that coupled with the efforts of the exceptional Josip Ilicic.

The Italian side had the upper hand over the home team from the word go  – Ilicic showed a sign of things to come after just 3 minutes as he lured Mouctar Diakhaby into a clumsy challenge with a clever turn after a brilliant solo run. The referee awarded a penalty and Ilicic scored. Gameiro got Valencia back, but Atalanta were in front again just before half-time as Ilicic scored from the penalty again.

While the pace in the first-half was normal, but it took a great tempo. Football was breathtaking as both teams exhibited the intent to win.

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Valencia were fortunate not to digest a goal again, as Remo Freuler’s long-range shot struck the crossbar, but the hosts equalized less than a minute later – Gameiro heading in Ferran’s delivery. Ferran then got himself on the scoresheet with a clever finish.

But the Slovenian was clinical enough to dent Valencia – He beat Dani Parejo on the edge of the box, before completing the scoring by caressing a first-time shot into the top-left corner with eight minutes remaining. It was his fourth goal and he completed his hat-trick by drilling a shot from 20 yards on the break.

It was the night of Ilicic. No one on the pitch came close to his skill and elegance. The Valencia defence was at bay due to the brilliance of this Slovenian. He had been always a threat coming in off the right, while his left-foot delivered the goods when it was required.

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Josip Ilicic wrote himself into the record books by scoring four goals for Atalanta against Valencia to break Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s record and become the oldest player to score an away hat-trick in the Champions League.

He is the first Slovenian to score a hat-trick in the Champions League, has now struck 14 goals in all competitions in 2020, more than any other player from Europe’s top five leagues. It brings his tally for the season to 21 in 29 appearances in all competitions.

He is just the fourth player to score at least four goals in a Champions League knockout game after Lionel Messi, Mario Gomez, and Robert Lewandowski, though he is the first player to do so away from home.

And after hitting the back of the net in their 4-1 first-leg victory, Ilicic joined Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the only players to score five or more goals over two legs of a Champions League knockout match.

At the final whistle, all the players held up a shirt to the cameras which had the message: “Bergamo, this is for you. Never give up!”

Indeed, Gasperini’s men have proved to be the fighters who play with a lively spirit and enjoy great unity. The team is aiming higher as Gasperini said after the match,  We are very happy about what this result represents for a territory that is suffering so much. We know that many people followed us at home, who cannot go out to celebrate. But we will have time to do it in June at the end of the championship. We will have a big party for everything, also for this danger that we will defeat”.

Atalanta have made Italy proud and smile.

It’s time for Napoli and Juventus to step up.