Hat-trick in European final rewrites record books

Hat-trick in European final rewrites record books

By Sam Worthington with AP

Atalanta broke a 61-year trophy drought and ended Bayer Leverkusen’s 51-game unbeaten run with a 3-0 upset win in the Europa League final on Thursday (AEST).

Leverkusen’s last defeat was a 3-0 loss to Bochum in May last year and earlier this week they became the first team to go through an entire Bundesliga season unbeaten.

Their record breaking streak earned the German club the nickname Bayer ‘Neverlusen’ but Ademola Lookman had other ideas in Dublin.

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The Nigerian international from London scored a stunning hat-trick at Aviva Stadium, with his finishes progressively becoming more emphatic.

It was the first ever hat-trick in a Europa League final.

Atalanta were playing in their first European final and had not won a top level trophy since the Italian Cup in 1963.

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Lookman scored twice in the first 26 minutes and Leverkusen struggled against the tight marking press of canny Atalanta manager Gian Piero Gasperini.

Leverkusen did not help itself with big errors leading to both goals.

First, midfielder Exequiel Palacios was slow to sense danger in the 12th minute when a low ball came across the Leverkusen goalmouth toward the far post.

Palacios was static as Lookman darted in on his blindside to score with a first time rising shot.

In the 26th minute, Lookman was gifted the ball deep in Leverkusen’s half by an aimless header back toward the defence by forward Amine Adli.

The Nigeria winger scored with a curling right footed shot and then completed his hat-trick with a thunderbolt via his left.

“We talk about dreams beforehand. And when the managers go on that whiteboard – ‘this is what we want to do, this is how we want to do it’ – this has gone like that and even more,” Mark Bosnich said on Stan Sport.

“Absolutely fantastic plan from Gasperini, really well executed by his Atalanta players.”

Craig Foster added: ”Gasperini has demonstrated his tactical quality because he’s read Leverkusen perfectly, exactly as he did Liverpool. They had so many chances.”

In any normal season, or a typical European final, Atalanta and their veteran mentor Gasperini would be the feel good story.

What is not to love for neutral fans in the big money Super League era?

A well run club from a small provincial city playing attractive football on a modest budget for a loyal coach.

Instead, it fell to Atalanta to play the bad guy and stop Leverkusen’s shot at European immortality.

Leverkusen manager Xabi Alonso must now lift his players for the German Cup final on Sunday (AEST).

They will start heavy favourite to beat second tier Kaiserslautern in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin.

As the minutes ticked down in Dublin, Alonso finally watched his team lose, standing still and alone in front of the team dugout.

He alternated between pushing his hands deep in the pockets of his slim fit black jeans, then folding his arms.

A few metres away, a sprightly 66-year-old Gasperini – his black jacket zipped high against the evening chill – was dancing with his players and staff in anticipation of the final whistle.

Even before the Atalanta goals, fans from Bergamo – outnumbered about 12,000 to 9000 by Leverkusen’s in the 48,000 crowd – mostly outsang their German counterparts on an overcast and breezy evening in the Irish capital.

The players responded with physical commitment from the opening minutes, harassing Leverkusen out of its typically elegant style with tight marking.

Leverkusen repeatedly gifted Atalanta the ball in its own half and created little.

When scoring chances did come, Alex Grimaldo lobbed the ball weakly into the arms of goalkeeper Juan Musso who had advanced off his line, and Jeremie Frimpong’s volleyed shot went high over the goal.

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