Gian Piero Gasperini reveals when Atalanta started to truly believe in their Champions League Round of 16 chances. “We knew we could do it.”
La Dea are in their first ever Champions League campaign and lost the opening three matches, but clawed their way back andwon 3-0 away to Shakhtar Donetsk.
Only one team had ever come back from three defeats to qualify for the last 16, but that was Newcastle for a second group phase in 2002-03 rather than the knockouts.
“It was hard-fought and very difficult in the first half, as we had some very good chances and failed to take them,” said the coach in his press conference.
“Then Shakhtar created their opportunities too, as they have a lot of quality and pace, but fortunately it went well. I am very happy for the lads, for the approach they took. We knew that if we reached the final half-hour and were still in the game, we could do it. The team is completely different compared to the first match, we improved in every area.”
Gasperini was asked when he started to believe Atalanta could genuinely do it after that disastrous start.
“At the halfway point, we did believe, because there was a draw in the other match (between Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb).
“We then drew with Manchester City, the team was clearly improving. We felt the fact Shakhtar scored to make it 3-3 with Zagreb at the 98thminute was a sign of destiny. Of course, Manchester City’s result this evening in Zagreb was also very important.”
Atalanta have been nowhere near full strength throughout this group stage, missing Duvan Zapata for months, while this evening they were without Josip Ilicic and Rafael Toloi too.
“This was a victory of the Atalanta team in total. We can miss important players, but retain this belief in ourselves, this quality in our approach. We are solid, no matter what happens.
“I can also explain that Simon Kjaer was not injured, the only reason he didn’t come today was my decision. He’s an excellent player, but struggles to interpret our style of football. He has other characteristics and I tried him out, but was not convinced.
“I chose Ibanez to come off the bench because I had no other options, but he did well, apart from an initial wobble.”
Atalanta will go into the Champions League draw for the knockouts, so who is Gasp hoping for?
“They’re all so strong, it doesn’t matter who we are up against. We can’t pick Juventus or Manchester City, and the others are all excellent too.
“Honestly, we are just happy to be here and hope to take our fans to a beautiful city for the away game.”
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