Atalanta knock wasteful Sporting out of the Europa League

Atalanta 2-1 Sporting (aggregate: 3-2)

Sporting’s Europa League campaign is over after their Italian nemesis this season Atalanta again got the better of them, winning 2-1 in Bergamo for a 3-2 aggregate victory.

Things were looking up for the Lions when they went into the break leading on the night and on aggregate thanks to a beautifully worked Pedro Gonçalves strike.

But two goals early in the second half put the Serie A outfit on top. Sporting created clear chances to equalise but could not find the net to take the game into extra time, and bow out of Europe at the last-16 stage. 

Rúben Amorim sent out a strong line-up as his side locked horns with Atalanta for the fourth time this season, having drawn two and lost one of their previous meetings at different stages of this same competition.  

Early Atalanta chances

And the hosts had a big chance to take the lead in the 3rd minute as some loose defending presented Gianluca Scamacca with a chance 15 yards out, but the burly striker could only shoot tamely straight at Franco Israel.

Sporting were finding it tough matching Atalanta’s physicality, Edwards especially going to ground in virtually every duel. On 14 minutes the home side went close again, Kolasinac sending a header whistling just past the post with Israel beaten.

Francisco Trincão won the ball in a dangerous position inside the box but in what would become a feature of the match, the Sporting player was too slow to get his shot off and a promising chance was gone. Atalanta were next to threaten, Scamacca just failing to get his head on a dangerous cross.

Superb Pote-Gyökeres combo

Sporting’s contingent of travelling fans were in dreamland in the 34th minute as the visitors took the lead. Pedro Gonçalves played the ball to Viktor Gyökeres on the edge of the box, the Swedish striker doing wonderfully well to hold the ball up then cleverly play in Gonçalves with a perfect backheel pass.

Pote duly shot under the goalkeeper to open the scoring, although his joy was mixed with sadness as he injured himself in the process and trudged off the pitch in tears, to be substituted by Bragança.

Holm had a chance to score a quick equaliser but he could only direct his shot from inside the box directly into the grateful Israel’s midriff. Thereafter Sporting held on until half time comfortably keeping the home team at bay.

Sporting switch off

All that good work was undone in the very first minute of the second half though, as Sporting switched off, allowing a cross to be whipped in from the right and travel across the six-yard box where Lookman had a simple tap-in.

Sporting initially reacted well to the setback, Gyökeres almost producing another genial assist with another clever backheel that was a whisker away from leaving Edwards one-on-one with goalkeeper Juan Musso.

On the hour mark Atalanta took the lead as Scamacca scored his third goal against Sporting this season, the Italians’ pressing winning the ball high up the pitch, followed by a swift move that cut through the Sporting defence.

Substitutes boost Sporting

Amorim immediately brought on Geny Catamo and Nuno Santos for Ricardo Esgaio and Matheus Reis to inject more energy and pace into the wingback positions.

In the 69th minute a long-range effort by Daniel Bragança, who was enjoying a fine game after replacing Pote, had Musso scrambling to make a diving save.

Amorim further freshened up the troops for a final assault in the last 15 minutes, bringing on Paulinho for Trincão and Quaresma for St. Juste.

Sporting chances come and go

And the Lions must still be wondering how they failed to equalise as they enjoyed their best period of the match. In the 78th minute an inviting shooting opportunity opened up for Geny Catamo. Fresh from a brilliant strike from a similar position in Sunday’s win at Arouca, he tried his luck again, but shot over the bar.

The Mozambican then slipped a perfect pass into the path of Edwards, who with only the goalkeeper to beat inexplicably checked back, tried a dribble, and was crowded out. Another golden opportunity soon arrived, Bragança playing a majestic long ball to set Paulinho free on goal, but the striker’s attempt to lob Musso was easily saved.

Still Sporting poured forward, Paulinho heading wide from a presentable close-range opportunity then Edwards again finding himself in a prime position to score as the panicking Italians failed to clear their lines, only for the Englishman to horribly screw his shot high over the bar.

That was that, as Sporting’s terrible record in Italy is extended to zero wins in 18 matches (5 draws, 13 defeats).


Rúben Amorim and his team have earned plenty of plaudits this season, but they were second best for the majority of the two legs against Atalanta. The relentless schedule of matches every 3-4 days is evidently taking its toll, with the Lions losing bite in the tackle, spring in their step and clarity of thought compared to a few weeks ago.

Atalanta play high-energy, physical football, and ultimately overpowered the Portuguese team with their strength as much as their skill.

A few Sporting players continue to perform at their highest level, the brilliant Morten Hjulmand (Sporting’s best player tonight) and Gyökeres the obvious examples, and the change of goalkeepers with Franco Israel replacing the injured first-choice guardian Antonio Adán has arguably been beneficial for the Lions. But with the form of others fluctuating, Amorim has been forced to shuffle the pack match to match, resulting in a loss of fluidity.

That said, most Sporting fans would agree with the coach’s option to focus primarily on winning the Primeira Liga, something the Lisbon club have managed just once in the last 20 years.

Even if Sporting got past Atalanta, looking at the teams remaining in the competition, the harsh reality is it is unlikely the Lions would have progressed much further, and having fewer games than title rivals Benfica – who progressed to the Europa League quarter-finals after knocking out Rangers – may actually benefit the Green and Whites as they pursue their main goal of becoming champions of Portugal.

By Tom Kundert


[0-1] Pedro Gonçalves, 34’

[1-1] Ademola Lookman, 46’

[2-1] Gianluca Scamacca, 59’