Football News

Atalanta win Europa League as ‘history-maker’ Ademola Lookman ends Bayer Leverkusen’s unbeaten run

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 22:00, 22 May 2024

Atalata beat Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 to win the Europa League — the club’s first ever major European trophy — courtesy of a hat-trick from Ademola Lookman.

Before Wednesday’s Europa League final, Bayer Leverkusen had been 1-0 down on 12 occasions but had avoided defeat each time.

Xabi Alonso’s team has been behind by two or more goals in four different games, yet they managed to come out unscathed each time. If one team has earned the title of ‘mentality monsters’, it’s the unbeatable Bundesliga champions. However, this evening in the Irish capital, it felt like they relied on their resilience one time too much.

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Although they came in as underdogs, the new Europa League champions Atalanta were always going to be a tough challenge. Gian Piero Gasperini’s team had defeated Sporting CP, Liverpool, and Marseille to reach Dublin and were not going to simply be a stepping stone in Bayer’s pursuit of an undefeated treble.

In the end, the Bundesliga champions fell to their first defeat across all competitions in 52 games. The streak, the longest in the history of top-level European men’s football, ends at 51.

This end result was also the biggest margin of defeat for a German team in a major European final match since the 1993 Uefa Cup, when Borussia Dortmund lost 3-0 to Juventus in the second leg. In single-game only finals, it’s the biggest margin of defeat for a German team since Eintracht Frankfurt lost 7-3 to Real Madrid in the 1960 European Cup.

Former Everton forward Lookman breached Matej Kovár’s goal in the 12th minute before doing so again before the half-hour mark. It was a significant brace as the 26th minute is the earliest a side has been 2-0 up in a Uefa Cup/Europa League final since Liverpool against Alaves in 2001 (16th minute).

Lookman was also the third Nigerian to score in a major European final, after Alex Iwobi for Arsenal in 2019 and Joe Aribo for Rangers in 2022 (both in the Europa League). Furthermore, he’s the first player to score 2+ goals for an Italian side in a major European final since Diego Milito for Inter in the 2009-10 Champions League final against Bayern Munich.

At half-time, a stat emerged: “The last team to come from 2+ goals behind to lift the trophy in a major European final was Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League final, with Xabi Alonso playing and scoring in that match.”

Considering this campaign, Leverkusen never knowing when they are beaten, you can forgive those watching from thinking it was job done. Including Atalanta, themselves. The opening 30 minutes of the second half saw Leverkusen push their opponents back while opening up themselves. But the chasers couldn’t halve the deficit as Lookman sensationally added one more. He’s the sixth player to score a hat-trick in the final of a major Uefa competition and the first since Jupp Heynckes for Borussia Monchengladbach in the 1975 Uefa Cup.

It also earned him a 10/10 rating with L’Equipe, only the 18th time they have awarded such a score, with previous recipients including Lionel Messi, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland. Haaland was the last player to achieve this feat by scoring five goals against RB Leipzig in the Champions League quarter-finals last season.

“Nobody imagined [Lookman] could make this much progress,” Gasperini told post-match reporters. “He wasn’t overly prolific in ­England. I played him in a slightly more ­attacking role and this season he’s had a great year. Tonight he achieved something that will remain in the annals of football history.”

It’s worth noting that this was Atalanta’s first-ever European final, making it the 11th different Italian team to reach a final and the first to do so for the first time since Lazio in the 1998 UEFA Cup (lost 3-0 to Inter). Furthermore, they are the first Italian side to win the UEFA Europa League, with the trophy only ever being won by previous sides from Spain, Portugal, England or Germany. The last Italian team to win the UEFA Cup was Parma in a 3-0 win over Marseille in 1999.

They will be dancing on the streets of Bergamo, a first piece of European silverware, ending a 61-year trophy drought. For the defeated, all good things must come to an end; Leverkusen’s previous defeat came in their final game of last season against VfL Bochum 361 days ago (51 games without defeat in all comps before today).