May 9, 2019 / 3:25 PM / a month ago

Soccer: Stadium under demolition but Atalanta still as strong as ever

(Reuters) - Atalanta’s stadium is being knocked down but the Serie A team are as solid as ever as they bid to qualify for the Champions League for the first time.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Serie A - Atalanta v Juventus - Stadio Atleti Azzurri, Bergamo, Italy - December 26, 2018 General view inside the stadium before the match REUTERS/Alberto Lingria/File Photo

The Bergamo-based side are fourth in the standings, occupying the last of the Champions League slots, with a three-point cushion over AC Milan and AS Roma and unbeaten in their last 12 matches in all competitions.

Also Serie A’s top-scorers (71), they have a chance to strengthen their position when they host lowly Genoa on Saturday although the game will take place at Sassuolo’s Mapei stadium, around 230 kilometres from their home.

The 2-0 win over Udinese 10 days ago was the last match at the old Atleti Azzurri d’Italia stadium, built in 1928, which was often criticised for its aging facilities, poor views and lack of roof over three sides of the ground.

However, the future is much brighter. Atalanta became one of only a handful of Serie A clubs to own their stadium when they bought the ground for a modest 8.6 million euros ($9.63 million) in 2017. Major teams such as AS Roma, Napoli, AC Milan and Inter Milan still play at municipally-owned grounds.

They are now completely rebuilding the venue. Watched by nearly 2,000 fans, the work began on Monday with the demolition of the Curva Nord (north stand) and is expected to take over two years.

The club hope the new arena will help establish them as one of the main Italian clubs outside Milan, Rome, Turin and Naples.

Saturday’s game pits their coach Gian Piero Gasperini against a Genoa side where he spent four years and who also punched above their weight under his leadership, including a fifth place finish in 2008-09.

“On a personal level, I’m not very happy about facing Genoa at this point, but it’s a really important match for the Champions League,” he said.

Gasperini had initially set Atalanta the target of qualifying for the Europa League but said that after their recent run, culminating in last Sunday’s 3-1 win at Lazio, that he had set his sights higher.

“We started believing as time wore on,” he said. “It’s not over yet, as there are Milan and Roma who are right up there.”

Atalanta have 62 points while Milan and Roma are on 59.

Milan, who are aiming to end a five-season absence from the Champions League, revived their hopes with a 2-1 win over Bologna on Monday, and visit Fiorentina on Saturday.

Roma, meanwhile, host champions Juventus, who are playing out the season after wrapping up the title with five games to spare and being knocked out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage.

($1 = 0.8933 euros)

Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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