Atalanta and Lookman’s hat Trick in the Europa League final Interrupted Bayer Leverkusen’s Undefeated Streak 3-0

Ademola Lookman, the Atalanta winger, was unstoppable, and Bayer Leverkusen’s almost unattainable goal of going the whole season undefeated and winning a hat treble of trophies was accomplished.

Instead, Lookman was the hero of the hat trick in Atalanta’s 3-0 victory over Leverkusen on Wednesday in the Europa League final.

Few anticipated the crushing defeat that befell the newly crowned German champion, whose 51-game winning streak across Europe was snapped by a club that had defeated them 3-0 in Liverpool during the quarterfinals.

In a game when the favorites never seemed at comfortable, Lookman, the Nigerian international born in London, was merciless in punishing significant mistakes made by Leverkusen players to score twice in the first 26 minutes. In the 75th, he finished off his solo performance with an arrowing shot.

“It’s one of the best nights of my life,” exclaimed the 26-year-old Lookman, who had been sold by Leipzig and then loaned out by Everton before joining a team that truly valued him. “I’ve always had the confidence.”

Atalanta and its seasoned coach Gian Piero Gasperini would be the feel-good soccer story in any ordinary season or European final.

In the era of the big-money Super League, what is there not to adore for neutral fans? A well-managed team from a small provincial city wins its first major prize in 61 years by playing attractive soccer under a faithful coach on a tight budget.

Atalanta was left to take the villainous role and thwart Leverkusen’s chance to become the greatest soccer team in history in Europe.

The day his previous club Inter Milan had to forcefully shift ownership owing to financial instability, Gasperini noted that Atalanta had managed to earn a profit. “There is still scope for meritocracy and ideas and not cold hard numbers and Super Leagues,” he added.

Now, Leverkusen’s coach Xabi Alonso has to get his team ready for Saturday’s German Cup final. At Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, they are a strong favorite to defeat Kaiserslautern, a lower division team.

“It has been quite exceptional what we have achieved. Today it is painful,” said Alonso.

He stood motionless and by himself in front of the team dugout, ultimately seeing his team lose as the minutes in Dublin passed. He would fold his arms and then plunge his hands deep into the pockets of his black pants, in alternate movements.

A little distance away, a lively 66-year-old Gasperini was dancing with his players and staff in anticipation of the final whistle. His black rain jacket zipped high against the nighttime frost.

Exequiel Palacios was Alonso’s first choice in midfield on Wednesday, beating out Robert Andrich, but the opening goal was the fault of the Argentina player who won the 2022 World Cup.

When Davide Zappacosta’s ball across the goalmouth escaped everyone, Palacios, defending the far post, had no idea that Lookman was behind him. Lookman scored with a soaring shot after cutting in on Palacios’ blind side.

In the 26th, Leverkusen conceded a goal in the middle of its own half once more, making the score 2-0. Lookman was hit by Amine Adli’s careless header that ricochet back toward his own defense.

With goalkeeper Matěj Kovář diving to his left, the former Everton midfielder sidestepped Granit Xhaka’s tackle and curled his right-footed shot into the net’s corner.

Leverkusen had fallen behind 2-0 in a Europa League last phase match for the fourth time since March, but its winning streak had never appeared to be in jeopardy. Leverkusen failed to score goals in stoppage time or late in the game, continuing a season-long trend.

From the outset, the players showed their physical determination, pressuring Leverkusen to abandon its customarily graceful approach through precise marking.

Leverkusen produced little and frequently gave the ball to Atalanta in its own half. When there were opportunities to score, Jeremie Frimpong’s volleyed effort soared high over the goal, and Álex Grimaldo weakly lobbed the ball into the arms of goalkeeper Juan Musso, who had moved off his line.

Gasperini, the Atalanta coach since 2016, stated, “We won’t be able to do away with all of that pain, but we have managed to put a smile on the Bergamesque people.”