'Reborn' Atalanta bring football dream back to devastated Bergamo
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Atalanta, inspired by the message "I will be reborn, you will be reborn", brought Serie A football back to Bergamo in style on Sunday following the coronavirus lockdown with a 4-1 victory over Sassuolo.
Bergamo was badly hit by the virus and the region was at the epicentre of Italy's COVID-19 crisis.
Gian Piero Gasperini's side hosted rivals Sassuolo behind closed doors in their Gewiss Stadium in a match played in memory of the city's thousands of virus victims.
Duvan Zapata scored a brace with Berat Djimsiti also on target as Sassuolo's Mehdi Bourabia turned into his own net, before pulling a goal back deep into injury time.
The province of Bergamo suffered 6,000 more deaths than usual during the COVID-19 outbreak, including 670 in Bergamo city which has a population of around 122,000.
During a minute's silence before the game, players formed a circle, with the backdrop of the music "Rinascero, Rinascerai" (I will be reborn, you will be reborn), a song composed during lockdown by Roby Facchinetti, an Italian musician from Bergamo.
The club also broadcast on social media a video accompanying the song, in which Atalanta players, Gasperini and doctors and nurses held up the same message: "Rinascero, Rinascerai."
Before the match, a few supporters gathered around the stadium to welcome the players as they arrived in the team coach.
"We came to support the team, even if we know we can't get in," fan Giorgio Arboldi, 50, told AFP TV. "The passion is so strong."
Some fans remained opposed to the restart, holding up a banner which read: "Football without tifosi (fans) is not football."
On the pitch, Atalanta consolidated their hold on the fourth and final Champions League spot, moving six points ahead of fifth-placed Roma.
"It's a very important victory, when you resume after a long time it is inevitable there will be doubts but we put them to one side by playing an excellent match that led to a great success which was also important for our position in the table," said Gasperini.
Atalanta, who are already through to the Champions League quarter-finals this season, were three goals up at the break.
Mattia Caldara knocked the ball down for Djimsiti who prodded in on 16 minutes.
Colombian Zapata got the second after half an hour, with Bourabia bundling the ball into his own net minutes later, with two goals ruled out by VAR, with Gasperini banished to the stands for protesting.
Zapata nodded in his second after an hour with Bourabia scoring a consolation for midtable Sassuolo with a perfect free-kick in the second minute of added time.
"The players had a great attachment to the city, nobody left Bergamo and there has always been the belief that sooner or later we would return," added Gasperini.
Third-placed Inter Milan host Sampdoria later on Sunday, with Serie A leaders Juventus visiting Bologna on Monday.
Atalanta host second-placed Lazio, who are a point behind Juventus, on Wednesday.
© 2020 AFP