2 months ago

Atalanta defeat Leverkusen to win Europa League

Leverkusen’s unbeaten long run streak ends

Atalanta's Berat Djimsiti lifts the trophy with teammates to celebrate winning the Europa League Final
Atalanta's Berat Djimsiti lifts the trophy with teammates to celebrate winning the Europa League Final Photo : Reuters

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Ademola Lookman scored a sensational hat-trick as Atalanta ended a 61-year trophy drought while devastating Bayer Leverkusen’s dream of an unbeaten season in the Europa League final at a boisterous Aviva Stadium.

Both sides brought a huge amount of support and colour to Dublin for what was Atalanta’s first European final and only Leverkusen’s third.

Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen had not lost in 51 games this season and were only two matches from perfection, as per BBC reports.

But former Charlton Athletic winger Lookman had other ideas.

He placed the opening goal in the top corner from Davide Zappacosta’s cutback.

And his second would have lit up any European final, as he nutmegged Granit Xhaka before bending a fantastic shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards.

Lookman's third was equally as good, a step-over beating Edmond Tapsoba before he fired into the roof of the net.

Leverkusen, whose story has been filled with amazing, dramatic comebacks, could not fashion another this time.

Thanks to Gian Piero Gasperini’s tactical masterclass, a wonderful pressing game and Lookman, Atalanta now have a second trophy to add next to the 1963 Coppa Italia in their cabinet in Bergamo.

And it books them a place in next season’s Champions League, which was not yet guaranteed through Serie A.

The Lookman final

All eyes were on Dublin for Leverkusen’s unbeaten run - but Atalanta and Lookman were not worried about that.

Gasperini has transformed Atalanta, previously a yo-yo club, into European regulars since his 2016 arrival - but the one thing missing was a trophy.

Atalanta had lost all three Coppa Italia finals under Gasperini, including last week to Juventus.

They were fired up for the biggest game in their history and came flying out of the traps.

Zappacosta found space and his cutback was fired home by London-born Nigeria international Lookman, a 2022 signing from German side RB Leipzig.

Several figures from Atalanta’s bench ran onto the pitch to celebrate the goal, such was the importance of it.

The ex-Everton, Fulham and Leicester man doubled their lead - and they never really looked back.

It was the quickest two-goal lead a team have had in the tournament final since Liverpool against Alaves in 2001 when it was called the Uefa Cup.

And Lookman had one more great moment in store, as he bamboozled Tapsoba before netting only the sixth European final hat-trick.

The last was all the way back in the 1975 Uefa Cup final by Jupp Heynckes for Borussia Monchengladbach.

Leverkusen finally beaten

This is still a season that will live forever in the history of Bayer Leverkusen, who became the first team to go unbeaten in a Bundesliga season.

No European defeat can take that away from them. But the dream of the first unbeaten season by a team in European competition is over. For the first time in 361 days they tasted defeat.

Even at 2-0 down the stats still said they had hope. They had fallen two goals behind four times already this season and come back every time.

There were little moments, like Alex Grimaldo’s chip being saved and Xhaka missing the target - but not enough of them or with enough quality.

There was a video assistant referee check for a Leverkusen penalty in the final minute, which was not awarded, but the German side barely complained as they knew there was no coming back this time.

Alonso must now pick his team up quickly from one of the first setbacks of his managerial career. On Saturday, they have a German Cup final against second-tier Kaiserslautern in Berlin as they look to complete a domestic double.

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