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Serie A

Valencia 3-4 Atalanta (4-8 agg): Inimitable Josip Ilicic nets four as Italians cruise into last eight

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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.

Josip Ilicic produced a sublime individual display as his four-goal haul led Atalanta to a 4-3 win away to Valencia, securing an 8-4 aggregate triumph and a first Champions League quarter-final.

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.

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.

Dire-khaby

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.

Key Opta Facts

– Ilicic became the fourth different player in Champions League history to score four goals in a knockout match, after Lionel Messi (2009-10 and 2011-12), Mario Gomez (2011-12) and Robert Lewandowski (2012-13).
– Valencia are winless in 10 Champions League knockout matches since beating Inter in the quarter-final second leg in 2002-03 – this is the longest such run in the competition’s history.
– Atalanta are the first Champions League debutants to reach the quarter-finals since Leicester City in 2016-17, and the first Italian side to do so since in their maiden campaign since Lazio in 1999-2000.
– Gameiro is the first player to score for three different Spanish teams in the Champions League, also previously netting for Sevilla and Atletico Madrid.
– Ilicic became the first Slovenian to score a Champions League treble – they are the 35th different nation to have a hat-trick scorer.

What’s next?

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.

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Serie A

Coronavirus: Dybala feeling ‘much better’ after suffering with COVID-19

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Juventus star Paulo Dybala has confirmed he suffered with strong symptoms of coronavirus, but is now recovering.

Paulo Dybala is feeling “much better” after experiencing strong symptoms of coronavirus over the past week.

Dybala confirmed on March 21 that he and his girlfriend Oriana Sabatini had tested positive for the virus, which has caused the postponement of sport across the globe.

The Argentine international said that both he and Sabatini were feeling fine, though – in a video call posted to Juve’s official Twitter account – Dybala has revealed he subsequently came down with strong symptoms.

“I feel good, much better in fact, after having had some strong symptoms for a couple of days,” Dybala said.

“Today I feel much better, without any symptoms and I can move much better, so I will try to train again.

 

 

“After having attempted to in the days where the symptoms were strong, I felt uncomfortable very quickly and I couldn’t get any air so I couldn’t do anything.

“After about five minutes I felt really tired and my body felt heavy, my muscles hurt and I had to stop.

“But luckily both me and my girlfriend feel much better now.”

Dybala was the third Juve player to test positive for COVID-19, after Daniele Rugani – who was the first Serie A player to be diagnosed with the illness – and Blaise Matuidi.

COVID-19 has taken hold in Italy over the course of the past month, where there have been 86,498 confirmed cases and 9,134 deaths.

 

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Serie A

Reports: Pogba to Juventus, Dybala or Pjanic to Man Utd

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Manchester United could be set to gain a Juventus star if Paul Pogba returns to Turin.

Juventus may be able to bring Paul Pogba back to Turin, but it could cost them a star.

Pogba, 27, has been linked with a move away from Manchester United, having returned to Old Trafford in 2016.

But the Serie A champions could be ready to give up a leading player in their bid to bring the France international back.

TOP STORY – POGBA TO JUVENTUS, DYBALA OR PJANIC TO MAN UTD

Manchester United midfielder Pogba could return to Juventus for money plus Paulo Dybala or Miralem Pjanic, according to Tuttosport.

 

Dybala almost headed to Old Trafford during the close season but is reportedly close to signing a contract extension with Juventus.

Pjanic, meanwhile, has made 32 appearances in all competitions this season, having arrived at Juve from domestic rivals Roma in 2016.

ROUND-UP

– The talk around Lautaro Martinez possibly leaving Inter to join Barcelona continues. Sport reports Barca are advancing in their bid to convince Martinez, with their project and potentially playing with Lionel Messi at club level their key points.

 

– With his Real Madrid future uncertain, Marcelo could be set for a move. Juventus are again interested in the left-back, according to Marca.

– Staying at the Santiago Bernabeu – Lucas Vazquez could also be heading for a Real Madrid exit. AS reports there have been no discussions over a potential contract extension with the forward, whose deal expires next year.

– Martin Braithwaite only arrived at Barcelona in February, but the LaLiga giants are already considering their options. Sport says Barca will not sell Braithwaite for less than €18million, which is what they paid to land the forward. Everton and West Ham are reportedly interested in the Denmark international.

– Arsenal are seemingly considering a move for Nabil Fekir again. The Premier League club were linked with the forward last year, but the Daily Star reports the Real Betis man is back on their radar as a potential replacement for Dani Ceballos, whose loan from Real Madrid ends at the conclusion of the season.

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Coronavirus: AS Roma to dedicate next match to frontline medical staff

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Medical workers will receive free tickets and reduced rates moving forward at Roma following the coronavirus crisis

Roma will dedicate their first match following the coronavirus pandemic to medical staff around the world, with 5,000 free tickets to be given to frontline workers.

Elite sport has been halted by the global crisis, with more than 650,000 confirmed cases and over 30,000 deaths.

Only the United States has more cases than Italy, where Serie A has been suspended until at least May 3.

Roma last played at Cagliari on March 1, winning 4-3, but the club have a plan for their next game in front of a packed crowd at the Stadio Olimpico.

The Serie A side said they will dedicate their “first home match in front of fans after football returns to honouring and celebrating the medical workers who have been on the frontline of the battle against COVID-19”.

A statement added it was “an extension of the club’s ‘HEROES’ series on social media, which pays tribute to individual doctors, nurses and medics in Italy and around the world”.

 

The promise of 5,000 free tickets for medical workers would “allow fans to show their appreciation for the selfless efforts of the medics during this crisis”, Roma explained.

They will also honour workers who have lost their lives, introduce a reduced price rate for medical staff from the start of next season, and donate a proportion of each ticket sale to the club’s fundraising campaign.

Roma president James Pallotta added: “It is impossible to overstate just how much we appreciate the work of the medical staff in Italy and around the world.”

Pallotta has donated €75,000 to the club’s COVID-19 fundraising project, which has brought in more than €530,000.

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