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Lookman’s hat-trick gives Atalanta the Europa League title

A stunning Ademola Lookman hat-trick gave Atalanta the Europa League title on Wednesday, just the second major trophy in its 117-year history after a 3-0 victory over Bayer Leverkusen ended the remarkable unbeaten streak of the German champions.

Lookman, who struggled to establish himself in the English Premier League with Everton, Fulham and Leicester City before reviving his career in Italy under Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini, scored twice in the first 26 minutes before sealing the 15-all victory. minutes of full time.

The victory ended Gasperini’s two-decade quest for major silverware as his team completely outclassed Xabi Alonso’s formidable Leverkusen, or ‘Neverlusen’ as they had been nicknamed after going unbeaten for 51 games.

But just as they did against Premier League heavyweights Liverpool and three-time finalists Olympique Marseille in the previous two rounds, Atalanta did not let their opponents escape to celebrate their first European final. with a famous victory.

“We needed to attack, it wasn’t enough to defend. We know that these teams are excellent at attacking. Everyone was extraordinary,” Gasperini said after the match, referring to the teams his team beat to become the first Italians to win the Cup competition since Parma. 25 years ago.

“The way we did it was the most important thing, we definitely deserved it against such a strong team. Winning the Europa League is an extraordinary achievement.”

Leverkusen began the game feeling decidedly unsure and unusually sloppy play gave the first chance of the game to Gianluca Scamacca, who had enough of his header after a fine cross from Matteo Ruggeri.

It was an early warning shot and the determined Italians scored within minutes when Davide Zappacosta was allowed too much space on the right before Lookman beat an unsuspecting Exequiel Palacios on the cut-in to score the first goal.

Lookman was mobbed by teammates and substitutes who were in dreamland 14 minutes later.

Another Leverkusen mistake gave possession to the Nigerian striker, who beat a defender and fired a beautiful right-footed shot into the bottom right corner from outside the area.

AWESOME STRIKE

The stunned Germans showed brief glimpses of how quickly they can activate in attack, but little came of it and it was Charles De Ketelaere who came closest on the counterattack, as Atalanta showed not a hint of nerves in the final debut or any effect of the absence. of the wounded captain Marten de Roon.

Leverkusen swapped defender Josip Stanisic for top scorer Victor Boniface at half-time, but that changed little as both sets of traveling fans continued to create the kind of Aviva Stadium noise matched only by some of the rugby teams’ famous victories. Irish or for the memorable nights of international football over the years. past.

Leverkusen had only failed once during the run that included 42 wins in all competitions and 17 goals scored in the 90th minute or later, but chances of another comeback were dashed by Atalanta’s resolute defensive line.

Lookman completely shut them down on the counterattack with another impressive shot into the top corner, this time with his left foot to complete his hat-trick, his sixth in a major European final and the first since Jupp Heynckes’s one with Borussia Moenchengladbach in the UEFA 1975. Mug.

He was thrown into the air by his teammates 15 minutes later when the final whistle sounded and the Bergamo club ended the 61-year wait since their 1963 Italian Cup triumph.

“It’s one of the best nights of my life,” said Lookman, who cradled the ball as he collected his winner’s medal.

“It was an incredible team performance. We did it… We made history tonight.”

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