Atalanta forward Josip Ilicic bagged a historic four goal
haul in the Serie A side’s 4-3 win at an audience-less Mestalla over hosts
Valencia, sealing the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 tie 8-4 overall.
The game was played behind closed doors as a precautionary
measure since visitors were coming from Bergamo, the city which has the highest
number of reported Covid-19 cases in Italy.
So, nobody was there to witness Gian Piero Gasperini’s men’s progress to the Champions League
quarter-finals in a landmark European campaign that happens to be the club’s
very first outing in the top-tier European club competition.
Valencia were already tasked with a Herculean challenge to
overturn a 3 goal deficit heading into this fixture, and things got even worse
for them when Mouctar Diakhaby brought down Ilicic inside the penalty box in
the second minute of the game.
The Slovenian kept his composure and fired home his spot kick
to give his side a 1-0 lead. Kevin Gameiro equalized for Los Ches, but Diakhaby
conceded another penalty towards the end of first half and Ilicic converted
from the spot once again.
The Italians went into the break with a 2-1 lead, but
Gameiro guided a Ferran Torres cross past Atalanta custodian Marco Sportiello to restore parity.
Torres then put
Valencia ahead for the first time in the match in an exquisite exhibition of
skill that showed why Catalan giants Barcelona are reportedly keen on bringing
in the 20-year-old next summer.
The Spain U-21
international burst into the box and lobbed the ball over Sportiello’s head,
but the hopes of making a comeback were still far off for Valencia as they
still needed 3 more goals to turn the tie around.
Ilicic found the
bottom right corner just minutes after Torres’s goal to push Valencia further
towards the brink of European exit, before hammering in the final nail in the
La Liga club’s coffin with a fabulous 81st minute finish.