'Big 5' reign supreme in Champions League

Atalanta defender Timothy Castagne scoring his team's first goal in the 3-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday night. The Italian Serie A side advanced despite losing their first three group matches. Below: Atletico Madrid forward Joao Felix cele
Atalanta defender Timothy Castagne scoring his team's first goal in the 3-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday night. The Italian Serie A side advanced despite losing their first three group matches. PHOTO: REUTERS
Atalanta defender Timothy Castagne scoring his team's first goal in the 3-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday night. The Italian Serie A side advanced despite losing their first three group matches. Below: Atletico Madrid forward Joao Felix cele
Atletico Madrid forward Joao Felix celebrating after scoring the opener in the 2-0 win over Lokomotiv Moscow. The Spanish La Liga team also finished as runners-up to qualify for the last 16.PHOTO: REUTERS

Atalanta, Atletico through to last 16; qualified teams all come from Europe's top five leagues

MADRID • For the first time in history, only five countries will be represented in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Atalanta and Atletico Madrid became the last two teams to qualify for the knockout phase on Wednesday night, meaning all 16 teams are from Europe's "Big Five" leagues - Italian Serie A, Spain's La Liga, German Bundesliga, French Ligue 1 and the English Premier League.

Champions League debutants Atalanta advanced as runners-up to Manchester City after a 3-0 win at 10-man Shakhtar Donetsk, completing an improbable turnaround after losing their first three Group C matches.

They are the first team in the current competition format to reach the last 16 after losing their first three group games, although Newcastle also made it to the second group stage in the 2002-03 season despite three defeats in as many opening matches.

"I can't find the words to describe this unique feeling," Atalanta skipper Alejandro Gomez, whose side scored through Timothy Castagne, Mario Pasalic and Robin Gosens, said. "This will remain in the history of the club and in the history of football."

Their feat is all the more remarkable as they have not been able to play their home games at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia in Bergamo as Uefa has deemed their ground unsuitable owing to its 21,000-seating capacity.

Instead, they have had to play at the San Siro in Milan, and Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini felt that they triumphed against the odds.

He said: "We're happy to have done this, for the city of Bergamo, for the fans and for Italian football. We did it - we showed that our style of play can be successful also in Europe."

Atletico grabbed the final spot that was up for grabs after beating Lokomotiv Moscow 2-0 at home to go through as Group D runners-up.

  • INTO THE HAT

  • GROUP WINNERS

    PSG (Fra), Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig (Ger), Manchester City, Liverpool (Eng), Juventus (Ita), Barcelona, Valencia (Esp)

    GROUP RUNNERS-UP

    Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid (Esp), Tottenham, Chelsea (Eng),

    Atalanta, Napoli (Ita), Lyon (Fra), Borussia Dortmund (Ger)

    The draw will be made in Nyon, on Monday. Clubs cannot draw another team from the same country or the same group.

Diego Simeone's men needed to match Bayer Leverkusen's result at home to leaders Juventus - they lost 2-0 - and Joao Felix did not shy away from the responsibility.

Teammate Kieran Trippier saw his penalty saved just two minutes into the game, but when the hosts were awarded another 15 minutes later, the Portugal forward did not hesitate to step up to the plate, firing past Anton Kochenkov.

Felipe added another early in the second half to bring an end to Atletico's three-match winless run without scoring a goal.

Simeone praised 20-year-old Felix's fearlessness, saying "when you are young, you are not afraid of anything", while teammate Koke called their progression a morale booster.

Recent poor results - going into the game, they had won only once in their past eight games in all competitions - have left Atletico in seventh place in La Liga on 26 points, eight behind joint-leaders Real Madrid and Barcelona.

"We needed a victory like this," Koke said. "We had been doing a good job, but the results weren't what we wanted. This time we created the chances and could capitalise on them."

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2019, with the headline ''Big 5' reign supreme in Champions League'. Print Edition | Subscribe