Lookman's Hat-Trick Fires Atalanta To Europa League Glory

Nigerian sensation, Ademola Lookman was the hero of the night as his three goals ended Bayern Leverkusen’s fairy-tale unbeaten run to secure Atalanta’s first European Cup title. 

Lookman became the first player to score a hat-trick in a European final for 49 years to secure Atalanta’s first-ever continental trophy.

The side from Bergamo have long lived in the shadow of nearby giants AC and Inter Milan.

Under Gian Piero Gasperini, though, they have had a golden age, qualifying for the Champions League four times, and now they have medals to show for it.

Late comebacks have become a routine for Leverkusen during their incredible journey to their first-ever Bundesliga title without ever losing.

However, they were unable to escape the hole that their sluggish start had made.

In just 12 minutes, Atalanta’s more deliberate play in the first half was rewarded.

Davide Zappacosta reached the by-line, and Lookman fired into the top corner at the back post while Exequiel Palacios was still asleep.

The Nigerian has sometimes endured a nomadic career, bouncing around the lower reaches of the Premier League on loan spells at Fulham and Leicester after being discarded by RB Leipzig.

But Lookman has found a home in Bergamo, where he will now forever be a hero.

The 26-year-old’s second goal was fit to win any final as he nutmegged Granit Xhaka before curling a powerful shot into the far corner.

For the fourth time in seven Europa League knockout matches, Xabi Alonso’s men found themselves 2-0 down.

Leverkusen’s flying full-backs have been at the heart of their stunning season and should have got them back in the game either side of half-time.

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Alex Grimaldo fired tamely into the arms of Juan Musso before Jeremie Frimpong blazed over with the goal gaping.

Leverkusen were also denied a lifeline when Gianluca Scamacca was lucky to escape with a yellow card for a wild challenge on Florian Wirtz.

Alonso has enjoyed a rapid rise to become one of Europe’s hottest coaching properties.

The Spaniard has rejected the advances of former clubs Liverpool and Bayern Munich to remain at the BayArena next season.

However, Alonso’s decision to start without a recognised striker did not work and he threw on Victor Boniface at half-time to give his side a focal point up front.

The damage, though, was already done as the German champions looked a side drained by their record run across three competitions.

Atalanta were happy to soak up the Leverkusen pressure after the break and hit on the counter-attack.

The final blow was another fabulous finish from Lookman as he skipped past Edmond Tapsoba and this time blasted into the top corner on his weaker left foot.

Atalanta had lost all three of their previous finals under Gasperini, most recently in last week’s Coppa Italia defeat to Juventus.

But this time they were not to be denied their shot at history as they were roared across the finishing line by the thousands clad in blue and black that had made the trip from northern Italy to the Irish capital.

In doing so they became the first Italian side to win the competition since Parma lifted the UEFA Cup in 1999.

Africa Today News, New York

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