BC-SOC--Italian Roundup,1st Ld-Writethru
ROME (AP) — Atalanta asserted its Champions League credentials and stretched its unbeaten run to 10 matches with a 3-1 comeback win at Lazio on Sunday in a preview of the Italian Cup final.
Adding another chapter to a fairytale-like season , Atalanta solidified its hold on fourth place — the last Champions League spot — moved within one point of third-place Inter Milan and practically eliminated Lazio from contending for a top-four finish.
“We’ve achieved something extraordinary today. If we believed before, we really do now,” Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said. “We have this belief in our football and we cling to it, so if we go behind or are in a difficult situation, we can rely on that.”
Already this season, Atalanta had eliminated four-time defending champion Juventus from the Italian Cup with an authoritative 3-0 win and produced a comeback victory at Napoli in Serie A — becoming the only Italian team besides Juventus to win at the San Paolo stadium.
Atalanta again had to come from behind after Marco Parolo gave Lazio an early advantage after seizing upon a loose ball.
Midway through the first half, Duvan Zapata equalized with his 22nd goal of the season following an accidental assist from Remo Freuler — moving within two goals of Atalanta’s season record set by Filippo Inzaghi in 1996-97.
Timothy Castagne broke the deadlock near the hour mark by scoring into an empty net following a Lazio defensive lapse.
Lazio defender Wallace then sealed it for the visitors with an own-goal for Atalanta’s Serie A leading 71st goal of the season — two more than the total of Italian champion Juventus.
Lazio is seven points behind Atalanta in eighth place with three rounds remaining.
“I think it’s over for us and the Champions League,” Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi said. “We want to qualify for Europe, which we can do either through the Italian Cup or Serie A.”
Atalanta and Lazio meet again in the Cup final on May 15.
Frosinone was relegated following a 2-2 draw at Sassuolo, which got a late equalizer from Jeremie Boga.
Also, Fabio Quagliarella scored a brace as Sampdoria drew 3-3 at Parma, giving him a league-best 25 goals; and relegation-threatened Empoli beat Fiorentina 1-0 in a Tuscan derby with a second-half header from Diego Farias.
Empoli goalkeeper Bartlomiej Dragowski, who was loaned from Fiorentina in January, was decisive with numerous difficult saves. Fiorentina’s winless streak was stretched to 11 matches.