Atalanta coach feared for his life as he fought virus

Atalanta coach feared for his life as he fought virus
Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini. (AP file photo)
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Updated 31 May 2020

Atalanta coach feared for his life as he fought virus

Atalanta coach feared for his life as he fought virus

ROME: When Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini was struggling with the coronavirus in mid-March, the prospect of entering Bergamo’s hospital — which was overflowing with COVID-19 patients at the time —  made him fear for his life.

“Every two minutes an ambulance passed by … It seemed like a war,” Gasperini said. “At night, I would think, ‘If go in there (the hospital), what will happen to me?’”

Fortunately for Gasperini, he quickly recovered and did not have to check into the Pope John XXIII hospital. The coach only recently confirmed that he had the virus when the entire team was tested 10 days ago, he said in an interview with the Gazzetta dello Sport published on Sunday.

The 62-year-old Gasperini started feeling sick on March 9, a day before Atalanta played at Valencia in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16.

He said that when he returned to Bergamo, which was quickly becoming the epicenter of the pandemic, “I didn’t have a fever but I felt destroyed and as if I had a 40-degree (Celsius, or 104 Fahrenheit) fever.”

Many experts have pointed to the first leg game between Atalanta and Valencia on Feb. 19 in Milan as one of the biggest reasons why the virus was so deadly in Bergamo. The match has been dubbed “Game Zero” by the local media.

With the virus advancing rapidly across Europe, the second leg in Valencia was played without fans. Still, more than 35% of Valencia’s team became infected.

More than 16,000 people have died from the virus in the Lombardy region containing Bergamo, which has been one of the hardest-hit cities.

“It will take years to really understand what happened,” Gasperini said. “Every time I think about it, it seems absurd: The high point of our sporting (achievement) coincided with the city’s deepest pain.

“I feel more Bergamasco now,” added Gasperini, who is from the Turin area.

Previously the only member of Atalanta who was confirmed as testing positive for the virus was reserve goalkeeper Marco Sportiello.

Atalanta advanced to the quarterfinals on 8-4 aggregate but has not played since then with soccer not due to restart in Italy until mid-June.

“Atalanta can help Bergamo recover, while respecting the pain and those in mourning,” Gasperini said. “It will take time to see people celebrating again in the piazzas or at the airport, but the Bergamaschi keep their fires burning under the ashes.

“There isn’t one player who left the city. More than one of them lost weight, which could also be the sign of psychological issues,” the coach added. “It’s difficult to read everyone’s repressed emotional state. Some of them had their families far away.

“One thing for sure, though, is that the squad remained connected with Bergamo’s suffering and it will bring that out onto the field.”


Man Utd retain top spot after Liverpool stalemate, Spurs sparkle

Man Utd retain top spot after Liverpool stalemate, Spurs sparkle
Updated 46 min 34 sec ago

Man Utd retain top spot after Liverpool stalemate, Spurs sparkle

Man Utd retain top spot after Liverpool stalemate, Spurs sparkle
  • It is the first time these two old foes have been involved in a title race together since 2009 when United, then at their peak, held off Liverpool’s challenge

LONDON: Manchester United held onto top spot in the Premier League after grinding out a dour 0-0 draw at title rivals Liverpool, while Tanguy Ndombele’s stunning strike sealed Tottenham’s 3-1 win at Sheffield United on Sunday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side had the better chances in a strangely subdued clash between two of English football’s bitterest rivals.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker saved well from Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba in the second half, but neither side deserved to win.

United are three points clear of third placed Liverpool and two ahead of second placed Leicester.

United are top after the New Year for the first time since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 thanks to nine wins in an 12-match unbeaten run. Leaving Anfield unscathed is a solid result for United as they chase a first title in eight years, but they might feel it was a missed opportunity to pile pressure on injury-hit Liverpool given their recent struggles.

It is the first time these two old foes have been involved in a title race together since 2009 when United, then at their peak, held off Liverpool’s challenge.

But there was little feel of a seismic encounter as both teams largely played with the handbrake on at an empty and silent Anfield.

Liverpool are well short of the dynamic form that carried them to the title last season and the Champions League in 2019.

Jurgen Klopp’s team have now gone four league games without a win and are without a goal in their last three top-flight matches.

Liverpool defender Joel Matip wasn’t fit enough to feature, so Jordan Henderson had to play as a makeshift center-back alongside fellow midfielder Fabinho.

Despite that setback, Liverpool dominated a cautious first half with over 65 percent of the possession.

They lacked a cutting edge in the final third and Roberto Firmino shot wide before Mohamed Salah volleyed over.

It took United 34 minutes to have a shot and they almost took the lead from it as Bruno Fernandes whipped his free-kick inches wide.

In an equally scrappy second half, Fernandes forced a good save from Alisson when his effort from Luke Shaw’s cross was turned away by the Brazilian’s foot.

Thiago Alcantara’s strike was well saved by David De Gea, while Alisson made another fine stop to deny Paul Pogba’s close-range shot.

At Bramall Lane, Tottenham took an early lead through a rare goal from Ivory Coast defender Serge Aurier.

Harry Kane’s 19th goal of the season — the England captain’s fourth in his last six games — increased Tottenham’s advantage before half-time.

David McGoldrick got one back for bottom of the table United in the second half, but Ndombele’s sublime lob, flicked over his shoulder from an acute angle, wrapped up the points.

The wonder-goal was the latest sign of Ndombele turning his Tottenham career around.

The 24-year-old’s fine form is a stark contrast to his struggles in his first season after arriving from Lyon, with Mourinho admitting the player had to change his mindset to get back on track.

“He is incredible. For me sometimes you can score a great goal isolated from your performance. In this case the goal confirmed his performance. It was really, really good,” Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho said.

Fourth placed Tottenham are on a seven-match unbeaten run in all competitions after winning at Bramall Lane for the first time since 1975.

Manchester City host Crystal Palace in Sunday’s late match.