Mon, Feb 27, 2017 - Page 11 News List

Top three a step too far: Gasperini

AFP, MILAN, Italy

Atalanta BC’s Mattia Caldera, left, scores against SSC Napoli in their Serie A match at the Stadio San Paolo in Naples, Italy, on Saturday.

Photo: AP

Atalanta BC coach Gian Piero Gasperini has played down suggestions the success-starved Serie A minnows could launch an audacious bid to qualify for the UEFA Champions League.

Gasperini lasted only five, winless matches at Inter when he replaced Leonardo in 2011, but the former Genoa coach’s stock is flying high after Atalanta’s shock 2-0 win at SSC Napoli on Saturday, despite being reduced to 10 men following Franck Kessie’s second-half expulsion, which put them within sight of Europe’s premier club competition.

Atalanta’s second successive win over Napoli moved the Nerazzurri up to fourth place, just three points behind Napoli in the third and final Champions League qualifying spot, but Gasperini said: “We have already targeted a place in the Europa League.”

“We’re still a few points behind the big three, but then again, when you win like this at the home of Napoli it increases your credibility for being involved in the competition,” he said.

Atalanta are the only side not to have conceded goals to Napoli this season, having also beaten Maurizio Sarri’s men 1-0 when they visited Bergamo in October last year.

Asked if he had some advice for Zinedine Zidane, whose Real Madrid side take a 3-1 lead over Napoli from the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie to Naples next month, Gasperini was coy.

“I hope Napoli go through. I could see them winning 2-0,” he said.

Atalanta, named after the female athlete in Greek mythology, was founded by Swiss immigrants in 1907, but although one of the most consistent of Italy’s provincial clubs, their trophy cabinet is virtually bare.

Atalanta won the Coppa Italia in 1962-1963 and Serie B six times between 1928 and 2011, but when it comes to showcasing some of the raw talent to have come through the club, Atalanta have been up there with the best this season.

Ivory Coast forward Kessie is considered a huge prospect and was reportedly watched by scouts from Manchester United on Saturday.

Mattia Caldara, who struck twice on Saturday, has already agreed terms to join Serie A champions Juventus from next year.

“Juventus will be enjoying a champion player over the next few years, that is sure,” Caldara’s agent, Giuseppe Riso, said this week. “He’s an incredible player.”

Even Gasperini, whose biggest achievement was leading Genoa to a fifth place in 2008-2009 and a Europa League spot, has seen his stock go sky high, but he said: “I’m doing fine in Bergamo. I’m with a club that has stood behind me in some difficult times.”

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