Atalanta thrash Valencia to close in on Champions League quarters

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Atalanta’s Italian goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini and teammates celebrate their Champions League win against Valencia. AFP

MILAN, February 20: Atalanta crushed Valencia 4-1 on Wednesday to take a giant step closer to reaching the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time.
Dutch wing-back Hans Hateboer scored twice on 16 and 62 minutes, sandwiching goals from Josip Ilicic and Remo Freuler.
Denis Cheryshev pulled one back for Valencia in the first leg of their last-16 tie at the San Siro, the same stadium where the Spanish side lost the 2001 final to Bayern Munich on penalties.
Valencia, seventh in La Liga, had finished top of their group after away wins over Ajax and Chelsea but were missing several key players through injury and suspension.
Atalanta’s run comes despite losing their opening three Champions League group games, before finishing second behind Manchester City.
It was an extraordinary night for the side from Bergamo who travelled to the San Siro with over 40,000 of their fans as their home stadium 55km away does not meet UEFA regulations.
Slovenian Ilicic and Papu Gomez spearheaded the Atalanta attack as Gian Piero Gasperini opted for a 3-4-1-2 formation.
Colombian striker Duvan Zapata, who scored Atalanta’s first ever Champions League goal against Shakhtar Donetsk, came on for the final 15 minutes as he continues to search for full fitness following a three-month injury layoff.
The tournament debutants dominated the first half with Mario Pasalic having their first chance on eight minutes, but Valencia keeper Jaume Domenech pushed the ball over the bar at full stretch.
Hateboer opened the scoring just after quarter of an hour, though, meeting a low Gomez cross to poke past Domenech for his first goal of the season.
Ferran Torres struck the post for Valencia on the half-hour mark, before Eliaquim Mangala missed a chance to connect with Goncalo Guedes’ shot across the face of goal.
Marten de Roon and Gomez both fired over before Ilicic collected Pasalic’s pass and drilled a powerful right-footed strike into the top corner three minutes before half-time.
Gasperini’s side put the result on the night beyond any doubt 12 minutes after the break as Freuler curled in a magnificent third from the edge of the box.
Leipzig leave Tottenham a Champions League mountain to climb
Tottenham need another Champions League escape act to reach the quarter-finals after Timo Werner’s penalty earned RB Leipzig a deserved 1-0 last 16, first leg win in London.
Spurs captain Hugo Lloris kept his side in the tie with a string of important saves, but last season’s finalists face a huge task to turn the tie around in Germany on March 10.
Without the firepower of the injured Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, Giovani lo Celso’s free-kick that struck the post was the closest Jose Mourinho’s men came to scoring on the night.
Tottenham upset the odds to progress past Manchester City and Ajax in the knockout stages last season, but were lacking in ideas and energy compared to the Bundesliga contenders.
After receiving the news that Son could be sidelined for the rest of the season by a fractured right arm on the eve of the game, Mourinho compared his side’s prospects for the rest of the season to hanging from a fourth-floor building by the balcony.
The hosts could easily have fallen flat on their face inside the first 90 seconds as Leipzig amazingly passed up four chances to open the scoring.
Patrik Schick flashed a shot wide from the edge of the box before Werner’s effort was blocked and Lloris turned Angelino’s driven shot onto the post.
Lloris then had to be alert again to deny Werner adding to his 25 goals this season from close range.
After weathering that early storm, Spurs went close to at the other end through Steven Bergwijn.
The Dutch international has enjoyed an impressive start to his Tottenham career and forced Peter Gulacsi into a smart save low to his left.
Leipzig are challenging Bayern Munich’s grip on the German title this season and the visitors were not overawed by the stage in their first ever Champions League knockout tie.
Lloris was forced into another save by Schick before the towering Czech also headed just wide from a corner.
Werner then wasted the best chance of the first half when he fired too close to Lloris with just the French number one to beat.
Leipzig could have regretted not making the most of their supremacy during the first 45 minutes as Gulacsi saved well from Lucas Moura and Bergwijn fired the rebound wide early in the second period.
However, after grinding out wins over Manchester City, Norwich, Southampton and Aston Villa in recent weeks despite conceding plenty of chances, Spurs’ luck ran out.
An ill-timed lunge from Ben Davies chopped down Konrad Laimer inside the area and Werner confidently converted the resulting penalty.
Moments later only a fine save by Lloris denied Schick a second at the end of a flowing move involving Christopher Nkunku, Angelino and a delightful dummy from Werner to tee up his strike partner.
The introduction of Erik Lamela and club record signing Tanguy Ndombele from the bench gave Tottenham a much-needed injection of creativity for the final 25 minutes.
However, their best effort came from a set-piece when Lo Celso’s powerful free-kick was turned onto the post by Gulacsi. (AFP)