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Former UEFA champions league winners Real Madrid on Wednesday struggled to break down a 10-man Atalanta side before Ferland Mendy netted in the 86th-minute to save their blushes and hand them a 1-0 win in the first leg of the round of 16 tie.
The Bernabeu side went into the game as bookmaker’s favorites despite a number of absentees due to injuries of injuries, and also Atalanta’s chances were further hit with a huge blow when midfielder Remo Freuler was sent off in the 17th minute after being adjudged to have denied a scoring opportunity.
Speaking after the game Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said; ‘The match was ruined,’
‘I don’t know what the result would have been, we might have still lost, but it would have been a much different and better match.’
Madrid which was missing key players including forward Karim Benzema, midfielder Eden Hazard, and captain Sergio Ramos — still found it difficult to test Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini until the end of the first half, when he pulled off a great reaction save to keep out Casemiro’s header from Toni Kroos’ free-kick.
Just as it looked as if Atalanta would hold on for a draw, Mendy received the ball outside the area after a corner and curled a shot into the right side of the net from 20 yards.
‘Yes, we’d practiced that play, but it wasn’t supposed to be Ferland who took the shot,’ said Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane with a smile.
‘We didn’t have a great game tonight but what was most important was the result.’
‘Scoring away from home was important for us.’
The second leg will be on March 16 in Madrid.
Atalanta can take comfort from the fact it has won all its European matches away from home this season, including a 2-0 victory over Liverpool at Anfield.
‘We just have to win in Madrid,‘ Gasperini said.
‘It’s easy — we can’t overthink, we just have one possibility. We must win.’ He added.
AFRICA TODAY NEWS, NEW YORK