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Valencia 3-4 Atalanta: 5 talking points as Atalanta secure maiden Champions League quarterfinals berth

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Italian Serie A surprise package Atalanta have knocked Valencia out of the UEFA Champions League with an 8-4 aggregate score in the round-of-16 tie. FOX Sports Asia takes a look at the key talking points from the game. 

#1 Irresistible Ilicic scores four 

Josip Ilicic has been sensational for Atalanta in the league the past couple of seasons and the attacking midfielder is now proving his worth in Europe as well. The Slovenian put in a stunning individual display to win the game almost entirely by himself—scoring two goals either side of half-time.

Ilicic scored two penalties in the first half, followed by two fine strikes in the 71st and the 82nd minute to put the game to bed—bringing his Champions League goal-tally, which stood at one before the game, to a formidable five goals at full-time.

#2 Disastrous Diakhaby

If Ilicic’s performance was one of the pure class,  Mouctar Diakhaby’s display was a horror-show. Diakhaby started off in ominous fashion, giving away a penalty as early as the third minute, which Ilicic duly converted to put Atalanta 5-0 up on aggregate.

Kevin Gameiro’s equalizer at 1-1 gave Valencia hope before Diakhaby appeared once more to gift Valencia a second penalty, Ilicic doing the needful again to score his team’s second of the night. Any momentum his team had gathered, the centre-back destroyed with his lack of concentration and this will not be a game that he will look back on fondly.

#3 Dark horses Atalanta can start dreaming 

If there is one thing Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta side do, it is to entertain. It is this very brand of free-flowing football that has led them into the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League. The Italian side can take heart from Tottenham Hotspur’s run to the finals last season as proof that anything is possible once you get to the last-eight.

Atalanta are fourth in the Serie A but have scored 70 goals, 10 more than Lazio who are second with 60 goals scored. Gasperini’s boys have the tools to take the game to the opposition, almost turning it into a punch-for-punch boxing match and will certainly believe they can outscore any team in a goal-fest.

#4 Closed-doors match fails to keep fans at home 

As a part of measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, Valencia’s second-leg tie at the Mestalla was played behind closed doors. However, even the dreaded virus failed to keep fans at bay as thousands gathered to greet the home team’s bus pre-match.

While the approach can certainly be termed as foolhardy, it also showcases the lengths fans are willing to go for the team they love. “Our hearts and souls are always in Mestalla”, read a banner put up over the stadium’s empty seats, perfectly illustrating the sentiments of the supporters for their club.

#5 Valencia can take heart from spirited display 

After their capitulation in the first-leg, Valencia’s display in the second-leg was thoroughly refreshing despite a defeat. The Spanish club folded meekly in Italy as Atalanta ran riot, but refused to surrender this time around, despite their opponents scoring just as many as they had in the first leg.

Kevin Gameiro equalized twice to make things level, and Valencia even led briefly at 3-2 after Ferran Torres’s sumptuous lob before another two goals by Ilicic sealed the game.

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Coronavirus: LaLiga Fest raises €625k as Pique talks of ‘invincible’ unity

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LaLiga stars and musicians came together for LaLiga Fest on Saturday, where a huge sum was raised to buy medical equipment.

LaLiga Fest raised more than €625,000 on Saturday as Barcelona stalwart Gerard Pique spoke of the need for unity amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Where Saturday nights would normally consist of fixtures in Spain’s top flight, the live action was restricted to performances on an internet stream.

A host of LaLiga stars – including Pique – addressed supporters, while musicians performed at the online festival.

Fans were encouraged to donate to the Banco Santander Foundation, where the money would be used to buy medical equipment to combat COVID-19.

There have been over 72,000 confirmed cases of the virus in Spain, with close to 6,000 deaths.

The total raised ticked past €625,000 as the festival ended, although donations would continue to be welcomed until Sunday afternoon.

Barca’s Pique was the most high-profile star to address those watching, as he claimed players and supporters alike could be “invincible together”.

“Without training, at home and trying to stay in shape, it is not easy,” the World Cup winner said. “We will get through it between all of us.

 

“It is a difficult situation, but doing something like what LaLiga is doing makes us feel proud of the players and the fans.

“It is something unique that means any LaLiga fan is able to contribute their grain of sand. I am very happy to be able to participate in such an initiative.

“There is rivalry when we are on the field of play, but when people need us, we are united.

“There will be a cost, it is difficult, we will have difficult times. Others will suffer it in person, but we have to make it through together. We are all invincible together.”

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Coronavirus: Ex-Barcelona goalkeeper Rustu Recber hospitalised with COVID-19

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Rustu Recber returned a positive coronavirus test and has been hospitalised in Turkey.

Turkey great Rustu Recber has been hospitalised after testing positive for coronavirus, his wife Isil has revealed.

Goalkeeper Rustu spent much of his club career at Fenerbahce, including a loan stint with the Turkish Super Lig giants during a three-year stay at Barcelona.

A star of the 2002 World Cup, Rustu played just seven times for Barca – all within the 2003-04 season – but retired aged 39 in 2012 with 120 international caps to his name.

The 46-year-old’s wife Isil posted on her Instagram page on Saturday to inform fans of her husband’s diagnosis.

“I would like to give you more positive news while sharing the truth in the most transparent way, but I’m sorry to say that my husband Rustu is hospitalised with the diagnosis of COVID-19,” she wrote.

 

“We are shocked by the rapid symptoms that developed suddenly when everything was normal. These are critical and difficult times.

“May Allah give emergency relief to all patients, including my dear husband.

“My only request is that people can be a little more conscientious and respectful in the process. In the tests we have done, my daughter and son were negative and only my husband was positive.

“For this reason, we are at home while he’s in hospital, and we are not allowed to see him. In fact, this is the most difficult part, not being able to be with him.

“Allah is great and is entrusted to him and the Turkish doctors. I hope this will pass.”

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Messi is Argentina’s ‘leader and protector’, says Tagliafico

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Argentina international Nicolas Tagliafico lauded Lionel Messi’s impact on the national team.

Lionel Messi is the “leader and protector” of Argentina, according to international team-mate Nicolas Tagliafico.

Messi, 32, has faced criticism for his performances for the national team as his wait for a first senior trophy at international level goes on.

But Ajax defender Tagliafico, a 25-time Argentina international, said the Barcelona star was key for his nation.

“Messi was released from the pressure to get results [at the 2019 Copa America, where Argentina finished third],” he told Ole.

“He more than anyone gets angry when he loses, but Messi became more aware that he has to enjoy the national team.

“I don’t know until when he will play, but it is not that he will have too many cups with the national team. He is at a stage where he wants to enjoy everything, training, games.

“He is the leader and protector of the team. That facet came out that we might not always see.”

The Copa America was due to be played again this year, but has been pushed back to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tagliafico said it was crucial for Argentina, who are unbeaten in seven games, to develop a strong foundation.

“We must find a very solid structure, not only for Leo, but also for the future, for what is to come,” he said.

“To be able to find a structure to grow. It is good to build a solid foundation and don’t build a base and then take it apart.

“If we can help Leo and Leo can help us, we will do much better. Everything is going to multiply. You have to create a structure and from there start to grow.”

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