Marquinhos and Choupo-Moting propelled PSG to a Champions League win

Champions League: Heartbreak Hotel for Atalanta

Atalanta 1-2 Paris Saint-Germain

A Champions League meeting of two clubs at very different spectrums.

A Champions League ending of very different spectrums.

From elation to deflation; heartbreak to happiness. Atalanta-PSG was as dramatic a finish as we’ve seen in the competition this season.

 

Highlights of the game

My feeling pre-match was that a lack of match fitness could impact on this one-legged quarter-final clash.

After all, Paris St-Germain had only played two competitive matches since March after the French authorities decided to call off Ligue 1 due to Covid-19.

Atalanta, meanwhile, had returned to action in June and secured a third-place finish in Serie A.

For so long, that competitive advantage seemed to be enough to see them through.

Beaten 4-0 on Matchday One and without a win at the halfway point of the group stage, few expected Atalanta to reach the knockout stages.

Yet here they were, in the last eight, uncharted territory for Gian Piero Gasperini’s men and the first debutants to reach the last eight since Lazio 20 years ago.

Atalanta fail to advance to the next round of the Champions League

Gian Piero Gasperini looks down following their loss against Paris Saint-Germain

They were relishing their underdog status, knowing very well the pressure was on their mega-rich opponents and duly took a deserved lead midway through the first half.

Duvan Zapata played the ball into the path of Mario Pasalic and he curled a superb effort past Keylor Navas – a three-time winner with Real Madrid – into the top corner.

They kept going too, a side clearly more than the sum of their parts while PSG continued in what has at times been a constant struggle to prove they are not just a gaggle of stars in search of a constellation – the most absurd of all the absurdities of the superclub era.

With each passing moment, you could sense the scriptwriters were penning their story.

Here was the sole remaining Italian club, with annual revenues of €149.8 million, knocking out the habitual French champions with their annual revenues of €635.9m.

Atalanta were delighted to even be in the Champions League, let alone get this far against Paris Saint-Germain, who were weighed down by the burden of never having got beyond the semi-final, and never having got beyond the quarters under their Qatari ownership.

Last season they were knocked out dramatically at home by a Manchester United side missing half their first choice starting XI through injury and suspension.

Then, with the clock on 90 minutes, came a turnaround that was so cruel on the Italians and yet could be a defining moment in PSG’s history.

Struggling with injury after using their allotted substitutes, Atalanta saw their luck go against them when substitute Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting crossed, Neymar found Marquinhos and the Brazilian’s shot went in via a deflection off defender Mattia Caldara.

Stunned, with little time to react and extra-time suddenly looming, Atalanta were crucially caught cold within another 149 seconds.

Neymar found another sub, Kylian Mbappe – back from injury earlier than anticipated – and there was Choupo-Moting to tap in from close range.

For a team which had produced Champions League 2020 highlights galore, including an eye-opening 8-4 aggregate victory over Valencia in the last 16, this was the ultimate heartbreak.

For PSG, who had shown their own resolve before lockdown when they overturned a first-leg deficit to see off Borussia Dortmund, the ultimate finish.

On the day of the club’s 50th birthday, could tonight’s dramatic events now lead to the ultimate chapter in their history?

Study the SBOBET Champions League 2020 betting odds and see what you think.

 

Key statistics

Paris St-Germain have scored in each of their last 33 Champions League matches – the last time they failed to score was a quarter-final second leg at Manchester City in 2016. They are now just one game off equalling Real Madrid’s record from May 2011 to April 2014.

Pasalic has been involved in five goals in his last six Champions League games (three goals, two assists), after no goals or assists in his first nine.

Atalanta have 10 different goalscorers in the competition this season, more than any other team.

Until tonight, PSG had lost all their three European games at Estadio da Luz – all against Benfica.

This was the first time PSG have defeated Italian opposition in the tournament (drawn four, lost two, won one).

They last reached the semi-finals in 1995 when they were knocked out by AC Milan (3-0 on aggregate).

Having bagged 70 goals across 83 outings, Neymar’s Champions League tally is 14 strikes in 18 appearances, however, this was his quarter-final debut for PSG,

Atalanta last reached the semi-finals of a European competition in the 1988 European Cup Winners’ Cup.

 

What’s next?

It’s the semi-finals and PSG will meet the winners of tomorrow’s RB Leipzig v Atletico Madrid tie next Tuesday (August 18).

 

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