By Jerry Mancini.
Atalanta have been the Cinderella story of the Champions League, but their run came to an end on Wednesday evening against Paris Saint-Germain.
Last season the Bergamo club qualified for the tournament for the first time in the club’s history, and once in it they advanced past the group stage and eliminated Valencia in the round of 16.
PSG, meanwhile, haven’t reached the semi-finals of the Champions League since 1995, and are known to be one of the most underwhelming clubs in this tournament given their resources. Last season they collapsed against Manchester United and the season prior they lost to a superior Real Madrid side.
But it was Atalanta’s run that came to an end this week as PSG scored two goals in stoppage time via Marquinhos and Eric Choupo-Moting.
Neymar gave his Man of the Match award to Choupo-Moting 🤗 pic.twitter.com/q19juEI4CN
— B/R Football (@brfootball) August 12, 2020
“This was a huge night even though it was very difficult,” PSG’s Brazilian forward Neymar said after the game.
“Atalanta are a great team who have played very well throughout the season, they were the surprise of the competition.
“We knew they were very aggressive and that they pressed all across the pitch, and that they would have chances.
“They really played very well, they have a very good team but we are very happy with what we have done.”
Neymar missed two glorious chances in the first half before Atalanta took the lead. The forward has failed to deliver in Champions League season after season as injuries and suspensions have limited his appearances in the knock-out stages, but in this match, he stood out despite those early misses.
He set up Marquinhos for the first goal to tie the game, and finished with seven shots, four key passes, and four crosses. He made great attacking runs throughout the match, and on one occasion fooled Mario Pasalic with a nifty nutmeg. He showed great footwork and went around players with ease.
After the game, Neymar was asked if he ever thought about his team being eliminated at this stage once again.
“No, not at all,” he replied. “I never thought about being eliminated or returning home.
“At every moment, from the warmups, we thought about qualifying for the semi-finals and nobody is going to take it out of my head that I am going to go right to the final.
“We took another step and another is coming. A very difficult one. We will have to do what we can to have another great performance and I hope that we will go to the final.”
Choupo-Moting came on late in the second half for Mauro Icardi and helped create PSG’s first goal as well as scoring the late winner.
“I think we showed such good morals until the last second.”
“The rest is a little history for Paris.”
“It’s a big step today.”
Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting reflects on a momentous night for PSG, with a little interruption from Neymar 🤣
— Football on BT Sport #Club2020 (@btsportfootball) August 12, 2020
In past seasons, PSG manager Thomas Tuchel has been under scrutiny as his club has failed to come up in big moments.
“It was very difficult to prepare the team,” said Tuchel.
“There was no rhythm because there were no games, but I could feel in the last days that the determination, enthusiasm and effort of the group, the quality of the training and mix between love and hard work was exceptional.
“For me, it was a deserved win, but if you score so late it was also luck – but I’m the first one to admit you need luck.”
As for Atalanta, their defence let them down in the late stages of the match. As the game progressed, fatigue and tiredness started to set in. The team has been reliant on their scoring this season and the goals eventually ran out. Missed chances to extend their lead and secure the win came back to haunt them.
“It’s a pity, were so close, but that’s the Champions League, teams with quality upfront can score two goals in two minutes,” Pasalic responded.
“The disappointment is there, so are regrets, but we want to look forward and be more prepared for the Champions League next season.”
Although it was a very bitter end to this match for the popular Serie A side, Atalanta should be proud and have their heads held high.
It was an outstanding performance from a team who did very well to advance as far as the quarter-finals.
Now PSG will aim to advance to the Champions League final for the first time in their history.