Champions League

Heartbreak in Lisbon; PSG stun Atalanta

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Fourteen years ago, the Estádio Da Luz in Lisbon hosted quite possibly the biggest upset in European football history as minnows Greece shocked hosts Portugal 1-0 in the UEFA Euro 2004 Final. Italian side Atalanta were minutes away from repeating the same feat against much-fancied Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League Tuesday night. This time, the Italians felt the same heartbreak felt by Portugal that night in Lisbon. 

Atalanta went into the match full of confidence as PSG were hampered with injuries. Marco Veratti and Angel Di Maria were notable absentees for the Parisians, and star man Kylian Mbappe was reduced to a 30-minute cameo from the bench after a recent ankle injury. Meanwhile, Josip Ilisic was the only notable miss for the Italians, with the Slovenian unavailable due to personal reasons. 

The game started full of action, as PSG’s Neymar found himself one-on-one with Atalanta’s Marco Sportiello. The Brazilian then shockingly scuffed his shot well wide to the dismay of PSG supporters worldwide. 

The miss proved costly for the French side. Atalanta took the lead in the 26th minute, thanks to a wonderful curler by Mario Pašalić. Keylor Navas had kept PSG from going down a goal earlier in the match, but there was nothing the Costa Rican could do to prevent a goal this time around.

PSG kept their heads up and attacked in full force, largely thanks to Neymar. The Brazilian was on a one-man mission to get his team level in the first half. He kept taking players on and beating them through his bag of tricks multiple times, but his finishing needed work. A sloppy back pass put the Brazilian in again in the 41st minute, but his left-footed effort was well wide. Atalanta went into the break with a 1-0 lead.

The second half started chippy, with both sides receiving multiple yellow cards. Atalanta had a chance to make it 2-0 in the 59th minute, but center back Berat Djimsiti sliced his volley just wide of goal following a free-kick. A minute later, Mbappe was introduced to the match by Thomas Tuchel, and the match started going PSG’s way. 

Mbappe was a threat from the moment he stepped in the pitch. His speed kept worrying Atalanta right-back Hans Hateboer, and PSG’s attacks kept flowing through the left-hand side. Atalanta manager Gian Piero Gasperinirecognized this and brought in Argentine center-back José Luis Palomino to stifle Mbappe’s attacks. 

A host of changes were made by both sides after the 60’ minute mark. Atalanta brought on Luis Muriel to help Duvàn Zapata in the attack. PSG responded by bringing on Julian Draxler and Leandro Paredes in the midfielder as they kept chasing the game. Mbappe continued to cause more problems for the French side, forcing a decent save from Sportiello in the near post. 

The scoreline remained at 1-0 with 10 minutes remaining, and PSG’s touchline remained active. Sergio Rico replaced Keylor Navas in goal after the Costa Rican international hobbled off with an injury, while Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting came on for Mauro Icardi.

Moments after the changes, Mbappe found himself in goal once again. This time, Palomino heroically blocked the Frenchman’s effort as his manager sent him out to do. The Parisians kept knocking on the door, and their persistence was awarded in the 90th minute. 

Choupo-Moting’s through ball towards the far-post found Neymar, and the #10 sent the ball in the direction of fellow Brazilian Marquinhos. The center back then tapped in the equalizer via Atalanta’s Mattia Caldara to send his manager into delirium. PSG were finally back into the match. 

Minutes later, things got better for men in white. Neymar’s delicate through ball played Mbappe towards goal, and the Frenchman squared it for Choupo-Moting to tap home the winner, and undo all of Atalanta’s good work. The Italians were stunned, while the French side celebrated a hard-fought comeback. 

As if things couldn’t get any more dramatic, a hopeful long ball from the back found Luis Muriel in-behind the PSG back-line deep inside injury-time. This was the chance for the Colombian to play party-popper, but he lost control of the ball and spurned a great opportunity to draw his side level and send the game into extra-time. PSG held on and advanced to the semi-finals thanks to an unremarkable victory, while Atalanta bowed out of the Champions League with their heads held low on the night, but high regarding the circumstances.

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