Soccer-Lookman nets hat-trick as Atalanta stun Leverkusen in Europa League final


Soccer Football - Europa League - Final - Atalanta v Bayer Leverkusen - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland - May 22, 2024 Atalanta's Ademola Lookman celebrates scoring their third goal and completes his hat-trick REUTERS/Molly Darlington

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ademola Lookman scored a stunning hat-trick as Atalanta beat Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 in the Europa League final on Wednesday to win just the second major trophy in their 117-year history and end the German champions' remarkable unbeaten streak.

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, struck twice inside the first 26 minutes before sealing the win 15 minutes from fulltime.

The victory ended Gasperini's own two-decade long pursuit of major silverware as his side totally outplayed Xabi Alonso's Leverkusen - or 'Neverlusen' as they had been dubbed after going an incredible 51 games unbeaten.

But just as they did against Premier League heavyweights Liverpool and three-times finalists Olympique de Marseille in the previous two rounds, Atalanta didn't give their opponents a sniff to mark their first European final with a famous victory.

"We needed to be attacking, it was not enough just to defend. We know these teams are great at attacking. Everyone was extraordinary," Gasperini told Sky Sports Italia, referring to the teams his side beat to become the first Italian winners of the competition since Parma 25 years ago.

"The way we did it was the most important thing, we deserved it without a shadow of a doubt against such a strong team. Winning the Europa League is an extraordinary achievement."

Leverkusen started the game looking decidedly unsure of themselves and some uncharacteristically sloppy play handed the first chance of the game to Gianluca Scamacca, who didn't get enough on his header from a fine Matteo Ruggeri cross.

It was an early warning shot and the purposeful Italians struck within minutes when Davide Zappacosta was allowed far too much space down the right before Lookman beat a flatfooted Exequiel Palacios to the cut back to stroke home the opener.

Lookman was mobbed by his team mates and substitutes who were in dreamland 14 minutes later.

Another Leverkusen error gifted possession to the Nigeria forward, who skipped past one defender and curled a beautiful right-footed shot into the bottom-right corner from just outside the box.

STUNNING STRIKE

The stunned Germans showed brief flashes of how quickly they can turn it on in attack but little came of it and it was Charles De Ketelaere who came closest on the break as Atalanta did not show a shred of debut final nerves nor any effects from the absence of injured captain Marten de Roon.

Leverkusen swapped defender Josip Stanisic for top scorer Victor Boniface at halftime but it changed little as both sets of travelling fans continued to create the kind of Aviva Stadium noise matched only by some of the Irish rugby teams' famous wins or memorable international soccer nights of years gone by.

Leverkusen had only failed to score once during the run that featured 42 wins in all competitions and 17 goals scored in or after the 90th minute, but there was no such comeback on Wednesday against the resolute Atalanta backline.

"The normality is not to get defeated in the 52nd game. Normally it happens much earlier in the season. It's been quite exceptional what we have achieved and we have to be really proud," Alonso told a news conference.

"We were missing many things for sure. It's very demanding to play against Atalanta, a lot of dual situations, very physical... It happens, it's football, today wasn't our day. They were better."

Lookman, who completed his hat trick with another stunning strike into the top corner, this time with his left foot, became the sixth person to score three goals in a major European final and first since Jupp Heynckes' for Borussia Moenchengladbach in the 1975 UEFA Cup.

He was flung into the air by his team mates when the final whistle blew 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," Lookman, who cradled the matchball as he collected his winners' medal, told TNT Sports.

"It was an amazing performance from the team. We did it... We made history tonight."

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin, additional reporting by Tommy Lund in Gdansk; Editing by Toby Davis)

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