Late Candreva strike seals Salernitana’s survival, bitter blow for Atalanta’s European hopes

Salernitana secured their top-flight status for another season while delivering a potentially fatal blow to Atalanta's Champions League qualification hopes on Serie A Matchday 35.

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STADIO ARECHI (Salerno): A late Antonio Candreva strike in stoppage time helped Salernitana to a massive 1-0 win over Atalanta that gave the Granata fans the moment they have been waiting for during this tumultuous season.

The midfielder’s strike put Paulo Sousa’s side 11 points above third-from-bottom Spezia, confirming their Serie A status for the 2023/23 season. They had come into Matchday 35 knowing that a win for them, or either a defeat or a draw from the Aquilotti against AC Milan later would seal their safety.

On the other hand, Atalanta fell to their second consecutive league defeat and now face the serious risk to lose ground from their contenders involved in the fight for a European spot.

Misfiring Atalanta gave Salernitana hope

Despite coming off a 2-1 defeat at Empoli, a previous 10-match unbeaten streak saw Sousa’s Salernitana open up a comfortable gap over the bottom three, and their eight-point cushion over Spezia meant that they started the game knowing that stretching that distance to at least nine points on this matchday would be enough to secure a third consecutive season in Serie A.

However, the fixture was no less important for a Nerazzurri side eager to seize the chance to go level on points with fifth-placed AC Milan.

With the roaring local fans making their voice heard since the opening minutes even under the pouring rain, Gian Piero Gasperini’s men took little to pose a threat to the hosts’ goal, with Mario Pasalic’s header going straight between Guillermo Ochoa’s arms.

That was just the first of a series of four headed attempts from Atalanta, with Duvan Zapata involved in the three following chances mid-way through the first half and in the closing stages respectively, but every one of them saw the striker either miss the target or fail to trouble Ochoa.

Overall, the opening 45 minutes were marked by Salernitana’s inability to find gaps in Atalanta’s defence, as the Nerazzurri let them build up in their own third of the pitch before starting to press aggressively once the ball reached their own half, arguably a precaution from coach Gasperini not to give the hosts that depth that could have been exploited by Boulaye Dia and Krzysztof Piatek.

Salernitana’s reaction paved the way for Candreva’s decider

Welcomed by a timid sun that gradually made its way through the clouds, Salernitana had a livelier start to the second half, looking more determined in their pressure on Atalanta’s ball carriers. However, when Zapata was dispossessed by Flavius Daniliuc with his defence wide open, Dia wasted a massive chance as he blazed over the bar when one-on-one against Marco Sportiello.

The Nerazzurri goalkeeper was called upon again shortly after when he was forced to dive and palm away a cross and although Piatek proved fastest to pounce on the resulting loose ball his header went beyond the bar and into the stands.

Atalanta had two more shots of their own through Caleb Okoli and Zapata but they seemed unable to match the same level of threat produced in the opening 45 minutes, while an inspired Granata side looked more and more eager to go in search of a late decider.

However, all they could muster was a central header from Daniliuc, at least before substitute Candreva completed a one-two with Piatek on the edge of the box deep into stoppage time only to hit a brilliant low drive that went in at the bottom right corner to give the hosts three crucial points.

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