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Atalanta can end 61-year wait for trophy in Europa League final

AFP
Tuesday, May 21, 2024

ROME: Atalanta have a date with history and Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday when the Italians aim to become the first team to beat the new German champions this season and win their first ever European final.

Gian Piero Gasperini´s side have in the Dublin Europa League final another shot at winning a first trophy in 61 years after losing the Italian Cup final against Juventus last week. The traditionally small club from Bergamo travel to Ireland in high spirits after securing a spot in next season´s revamped Champions League. Star forwards Charles De Ketelaere and Gianluca Scamacca secured a 2-0 win at Lecce on Saturday which guaranteed Atalanta at least fifth spot in Serie A and led to a hero´s welcome from supporters after they returned from Italy´s extreme south.

Hundreds of fans waited under torrential rain for their team at the Zingonia training centre outside Bergamo, greeting them with flares, flags and fireworks, loudly expressing their appreciation at another brilliant season under Gasperini which may yet become the best in the club´s 117-year history.

“Qualifying for the Champions League is best we can achieve at Atalanta, it´s not like we can aim to win Serie A,” Gasperini told reporters on Saturday.

“We were a bit tired in the final with Juventus... between now and Wednesday we need to make sure that we´re the very best version our ourselves.” Atalanta will be missing key midfielder Marten De Roon to a hamstring knock picked up during the Italian Cup final, an injury which Gasperini called the “real loss” of that evening.

Gasperini can however count on the brilliant form of Scamacca and De Ketelaere, who will start on Wednesday, and potentially the return of defender Sead Kolasinac as the 66-year-old tries to win his first final in his eight-year reign in Bergamo after losing his previous three. Belgium forward De Ketelaere has been a revelation since being loaned to Atalanta from AC Milan with a 24 million euro option to buy last summer, scoring 14 goals.