Atalanta has Italian Cup and Champions League to play for
MILAN (AP) — For one club, winning the Italian Cup would salvage a disappointing season. For the other, it’s not even the top priority.
Fourth-place Atalanta plays Lazio in the Italian Cup final on Wednesday at Stadio Olimpico, giving the competition a new champion after four years of Juventus domination.
Atalanta has won the competition only once, back in 1963, and has only reached the final on two other occasions — in 1987 and 1996. However, the team from the small northern city of Bergamo has other ambitions, like qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in its history.
“Personally I want both to qualify for the Champions League and the cup,” Atalanta defender Gianluca Mancini said. “I can’t and I won’t choose.”
Atalanta has played in the Europa League for the past two years, but this season they lost in the playoff round on penalties. The club’s only other appearances in European competitions came in the UEFA Cup (1989-90 and 1990-91) and the Cup Winners’ Cup (1963-64 and 1987-88).
For coach Gian Piero Gasperini, the choice between winning the Italian Cup and qualifying for Europe’s premier club competition is a no-brainer.
“I’ve said it before, I would choose a place in the Champions League,” Gasperini said. “Trophies aren’t just cups in a display case, for Atalanta playing for that cup (the Champions League) would be really important.
“So I’ve always said Champions League, but lifting a trophy is not something that happens every day.”
Atalanta beat Juventus 3-0 in the quarterfinals, ending the defending champion’s hopes of a fifth straight league and cup double. It then beat Fiorentina 6-4 on aggregate in the semifinals.
The first match against Fiorentina kicked off an ongoing 11-match unbeaten streak, which has lifted Atalanta up to fourth place in Serie A and the final Champions League qualifying berth.
Atalanta has a three-point advantage over AC Milan and Roma with two matches remaining.
Lazio is seven points behind and its Champions League hopes ended two weeks ago with a loss to Atalanta — its second of the season.
Lazio has won the Italian Cup six times. Five of those victories have come in the past 21 years, making it the most successful club in the competition over that time.
The Rome club has also lost in three finals, including twice to Juventus in the previous four editions.
Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi was in charge for the 2017 loss. Both he and Gasperini have never won the Italian Cup as a coach, although Inzaghi won it as a player with Lazio three times.
“We fear Lazio, which has a lot of quality and so much choice up front,” Mancini said. “But I think Lazio also fears us, so the final will be a 50-50 match.”