Serie A side Atalanta marked their maiden appearance in Champions League knock-out stage with a resounding 4-1 victory over Valencia in the first leg of the pre-quarterfinal meeting at San Siro.
The hosts raced into a two-goal lead by halftime with goals from Hans Hateboer and Josip Ilicic, while Valencia were denied by the post.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s side then struck another two goals with Remo Freuler’s curling strike and a second goal for Hateboer to have almost sealed the deal for the Italians, but substitute Denis Cheryshev gave the Spanish visitors a faint glimmer of hope with an away goal.
Two-time runners-up Valencia will host the Serie A side at the Mestalla Stadium in the return leg on March 10.
Despite the three-goal cushion of Atalanta, their manager Gasperini wasn’t entirely satisfied with his team’s performance.
“We need to be more precise when we go to the Mestalla,” the Atalanta coach told Sky Sport Italia.
“If we want to get into the quarter-finals, we have to play like this at the Mestalla too, prove we deserve to be there with a show of strength, and win there too.”
Earlier, Atalanta had qualified for Europe’s top club competition for the first time with a third-place finish in Serie A last season, a feat which they achieved despite having the 14th-highest wage budget in the division.
The Lombardy based club began in confident fashion, coming close to the opener after just eight minutes when Mario Pasalic burst into the box and saw his curling shot superbly saved by Valencia keeper Jaume Domenech.
The hosts, however, found the breakthrough when Hateboer met an Alejandro Gomez cross at the back post and slid in a finish from close range.
Valencia responded soon as Ferran Torres smashed a shot against the post from a tight angle, before Goncalo Guedes’ effort flew wide, just beyond the outstretched foot of Eliaquim Mangala.
The Italians then doubled their lead three minutes before the interval when Ilicic gathered the ball on the edge of the area and smashed a right-footed drive beyond Valencia’s shot-stopper.
Freuler after the break whipped a sublime finish into the top corner from the edge of the area to hand the hosts a 3-0 lead. Hateboer struck again in the 63 minutes as he beat the offside trap on the right-wing before driving forward and firing home a finish.
Valencia eventually took one of their chances to notch an away goal when a lazy pass from Jose Luis Palomino was pounced on by substitute Cheryshev, who drilled a shot into the bottom corner with his first act of the game.