Ilicic scores 4 to send Atalanta to quarterfinals for first time

Atalanta's Josip Ilicic celebrates after scoring his side's fourth goal during the Champions League round of 16 second leg soccer match between Valencia and Atalanta in Valencia, Spain, Tuesday March 10, 2020. The match is being in an empty stadium because of the coronavirus outbreak. (UEFA via AP)

VALENCIA, Spain — Josip Ilicic scored four goals as Champions League newcomer Atalanta reached the quarterfinals with a 4-3 win over Valencia on Tuesday in a match played in an empty stadium because of the coronavirus outbreak.

With Atalanta holding a comfortable 4-1 lead from the first leg in Italy, Ilicic scored twice in each half at the deserted Mestalla Stadium as Atalanta advanced 8-4 on aggregate.

The 32-year-old Slovenian, who also scored in the first match, became the first player to score four goals away from home in a Champions League knockout match. He has 17 goals in his last 13 games.

It didn’t take long before Atalanta increased its lead from the first leg, with Ilicic converting a third-minute penalty after being fouled inside the area by Valencia defender Mouctar Diakhaby.

Forward Kevin Gameiro equalized for Valencia from inside the area in the 21st, but Ilicic virtually ended Valencia’s hopes of a comeback by converting another penalty in the 43rd after a handball by Diakhaby.

The two away goals meant the hosts needed to score at least five more times to have a chance of advancing.

Gameiro added Valencia’s second goal with a header in the 51st and Ferran Torres scored on a breakaway in the 67th, but Ilicic secured the win with goals from inside the area in the 71st and 82nd.

Several hundred Valencia fans were outside the Mestalla to welcome Valencia’s squad before the match and could be heard chanting during the game.

Spain announced Tuesday all sports events with a significant number of fans have to be played in empty stadiums for the next 15 days to try to contain the spread of the coronarivus after a sharp increase in the number of cases in the country. The decision to play the Valencia game without fans had already been made in advance because of the high number of cases in Italy.

It remained unclear if Atalanta will be able to play its quarterfinal match at home amid Italy’s nation-wide quarantine measures because of the virus. The team is based in Bergamo and plays its home European games at the San Siro Stadium in Milan.

After the first leg in Italy, Valencia had banned its players from all media availability because a journalist who travelled to cover the team was found to be infected with the coronavirus.

Atalanta’s best European campaigns until now came when it reached the semifinals of the 1988 European Cup Winners Cup. It also made it to the quarterfinals of the 1991 UEFA Cup.

Valencia was playing in the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time since 2013.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.