Valencia 3-4 Atalanta (4-8 agg): Inimitable Ilicic nets four as Italians cruise into last eight
Josip Ilicic was the star of the show with four goals on Tuesday, as Atalanta left Valencia with a 4-3 win that saw them progress.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s men travelled to Valencia on the back of a comprehensive 4-1 win at San Siro and that coupled with the efforts of the exceptional Ilicic at Mestalla took Atalanta through to the last eight, the two sides playing out a thriller despite no fans being in attendance as a consequence of the coronavirus outbreak.
Atalanta went into the break with a deserved lead, as Ilicic won and scored a pair of penalties either side of a poacher’s effort from Kevin Gameiro.
Gameiro got a second to pull Valencia level and Ferran Torres put them in front for the first time on the night, but Ilicic completed his hat-trick with a fine strike before earning the visitors the victory with another excellent effort.
32y 41d – Atalanta’s Josip Iličić has become the oldest player to score an away Champions League hat-trick, aged 32 years and 41 days. Evergreen. pic.twitter.com/1aOlKQxpfn
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 10, 2020
Ilicic showed a sign of things to come after just three minutes as he lured Mouctar Diakhaby into a clumsy challenge with a clever turn after a brilliant solo run, and the Slovenia international converted the spot-kick confidently.
Gameiro got Valencia back on level terms for the match, slotting into an empty net despite Jose Luis Palomino initially doing well to cut out Rodrigo Moreno’s throughball.
But Atalanta were in front again just before half-time – Ilicic dispatching another penalty after his run into the box was halted by Diakhaby handling the ball.
The second half began at breathtaking speed and Valencia were fortunate to not concede again, as Remo Freuler’s long-range effort struck the crossbar, but the hosts equalised less than a minute later – Gameiro heading in Ferran’s delivery.
Ferran then got himself on the scoresheet with a clever finish over the approaching Marco Sportiello, only for Ilicic to deny Valencia a victory.
Ilicic finished clinically after beating 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.
What does it mean? Atalanta a force to be reckoned with
Unfortunately, Atalanta’s chances of really making a dent in the latter stages of this competition are likely to be heavily impacted by the lack of football that awaits them with all sporting events in Italy suspended until April 3.
But, whatever their fate, Gasperini’s side will certainly provide us with a little more fun, particularly with the wonderful Ilicic.
Ilicic toys with the Valencia defence
No one else on the pitch came close to Ilicic in terms of quality on Tuesday. The forward was simply unplayable – his elegance and craft leaving the Valencia defence in knots on a regular basis. He won and converted both penalties, while he was always a threat coming in off the right with his wand of a left foot, as evidenced by his third and fourth goals.
It was a day to forget for Valencia centre-back Diakhaby. After conceding both penalties during a first half in which he was run ragged by Ilicic, he was unsurprisingly taken out of the firing line at half-time.
Valencia return to LaLiga action on Saturday with a local derby against Levante, though once again there will be no supporters in attendance. As for Atalanta, it is unclear when they will next be in action, but they are not due to play again this month.