Ilicic scores 4 goals as Atalanta's historic UCL run continues

10.3.2020 22:12

Atalanta's first foray in the Champions League lives on as the Italian debutants progressed to the quarterfinal stage, winning 8-4 on aggregate after Tuesday's 4-3 victory over Valencia.

Josip Ilicic was the hero for Atalanta, scoring a brace in both halves to register the first four-goal performance of this season's competition.

Los Che center-back Mouctar Diakhaby had a nightmare of a first-half for the hosts. First, the Frenchman was at fault for Ilicic's third-minute opener from the spot. Later, Diakhaby was again flagged for a penalty, this time a handball minutes before the break, that the Slovenian striker again easily slotted home.

Eerie sounds greeted Kevin Gameiro's strike for Valencia in the 18th minute after the fixture was forced behind closed doors amid coronavirus fears. Celebratory sounds were played on the PA at an empty Mestalla Stadium as the hosts clawed their way back.

Gameiro made it 2-2 shortly after the interval when he headed Ferran Torres' measured cross beyond helpless Atalanta 'keeper Marco Sportiello.

Valencia continued on the front foot following Gameiro's second, and they were rewarded for their enterprising efforts when Torres' surging run saw the prodigious 20-year-old winger deftly chip Sportiello on the edge of the penalty area.

The hosts slim hopes were dashed minutes later, by Ilicic, of course, who capitalized on an Atalanta counter-attack with a left-footed strike with 20 minutes to play. That goal gave Ilicic three on the evening, making him the eldest (32 years, 41 days) to record an away hat-trick in the Champions League.

He wasn't done.

Ilicic would score his fourth to cement the result in the 82nd minute when he was afforded heaps of space thanks to Remo Freuler's smart layoff in the area that benefited from dispirited defending from Valencia.

Ilicic's quartet means the 32-year-old now has 14 goals in all competitions in the calendar year, more than any player in Europe's top-five leagues.

Tuesday's progression to the last-eight continues an unforeseen continental campaign for Gian Piero Gasperini's lot.

Atalanta, who qualified for European competition for the first time courtesy of a club-best third-place finish in Serie A last season, became the first side to qualify for the Champions League knockout stage after losing their first-three group stage matches.

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