Hans Hateboer scored twice as Atalanta beat Valencia 4-1 in the first leg of the Champions League’s round of 16, putting the Italian team on the verge of extending their first season in the competition.
Roughly a third of the population of the small town of Bergamo was present at the San Siro stadium to see Hateboer, Josip Ilii and Remo Freuler score for Atalanta.
The substitute Denis Cheryshev scored a consolation goal for Valencia to give the Spanish team a glimmer of hope for the second leg on 10 March.
Atalanta was forced into a late change as the defender Berat Djimsiti picked up a knock during the warmup and had to be replaced by Mattia Caldara.
The home side started brightly and Alejandro Gómez sent a free kick narrowly over before Mario Paali forced a smart stop from the Valencia goalkeeper Jaume Doménech.
Atalanta broke the deadlock in the 16th minute when Hateboer slid in at the back post to turn in Gómez’s cross from the left. Robin Gosens hit the side-netting shortly afterwards before Valencia got into the match and almost levelled on the half-hour mark following a quickly-taken free kick, but Ferrán Torres effort crashed off the right-hand post.
Valencia went close again when Gonçalo Guedes’s cross-shot flew past Eliaquim Mangala sliding in at the far post.But Atalanta doubled their lead three minutes from the interval as Ilii held off two defenders before firing into the top left corner.
Atalanta dominated from the restart and Freuler extended his side’s lead in the 57th minute, curling a spectacular effort into the top right corner. The noise in the stadium was ramped up even more five minutes later when Hateboer ran almost half the length of the pitch before shooting past Doménech.
Cheryshev replaced Guedes in the 64th minute and pulled one back for Valencia two minutes later, drilling a low shot into the bottom corner.
Atalanta qualified for Europe’s top competition for the first time after a surprise third-place finish in Serie A last season. And they progressed to the knockout stages despite losing their first three matches in the competition.
They are playing their matches at San Siro as their own stadium did not meet Uefa requirements. Bergamo has a population of approximately 122,000 and more than 40,000 had made the 60km journey.