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Ademola Lookman scores stunning hat-trick as Atalanta wins Europa League title to end Bayer Leverkusen’s historic unbeaten run

By Matias Grez, CNN

(CNN) — Bayer Leverkusen’s historic unbeaten run came to a shuddering halt on Wednesday as Atalanta ran riot in the Europa League final, winning 3-0 to lift just the second major trophy in the club’s 116-year history.

It was 26-year-old forward Ademola Lookman that etched himself into the Atalanta record books, scoring a stunning hat-trick to lead his team to victory and cement his place as a club hero.

His performance in Dublin, Ireland was the crowning moment of a career that began in south east London with Charlton Athletic and has taken him to Everton, RB Leipzig, Fulham, Leicester City and, finally, Atalanta.

Even before Wednesday’s heroics, Lookman had played his way into the hearts of Atalanta fans and had found himself a new home in Bergamo, northern Italy.

“I feel the support from the fans from the first minute I was in Bergamo,” Lookman said, per the BBC. “The city of Bergamo gives me a sense of calmness. It’s a very calm, relaxed city and that has helped me a lot with my living style. I’m focused on the important things.”

The goals help, too. Lookman has now scored 15 in each of his first two seasons with Atalanta since joining in 2022, by far the most prolific stretch of his career so far.

Lookman described the win, in which he scored his hat-trick with his only three shots at goal, as “one of the best nights of my life.”

“Amazing performance from the team. We did it. We did it. We did it!” Lookman told TNT Sports after the game.

This victory was “third time lucky” for Lookman after losing the Coppa Italia final last week and the Africa Cup of Nations final with Nigeria in February.

“I’m just happy we won today,” a relieved Lookman said. “We’re going to celebrate – we made history tonight.”

Lookman’s remarkable ascent since joining Atalanta has left even Atalanta manager Gian Piero Gasperini stunned.

“We had a senior manager at Atalanta who had worked at Leicester, who saw the opportunity to bring him in and thought he was a possible useful player,” the 66-year-old Gasperini, who lifted the first trophy of his managerial career, told the BBC.

“Nobody could ever imagine he’d could make this much progress. He wasn’t overly prolific in England. I changed his position to a more attacking role. Tonight he achieved something which will remain in the annals of football history – a stunning hat-trick.”

But this wasn’t supposed to be in the script. Most of the talk going into Wednesday’s final had been about Bayer Leverkusen’s remarkable season and its record-breaking 51-game unbeaten run.

The team recently lifted the Bundesliga trophy as the first team in history to do so without losing a league game, but this was perhaps a game too far for Xabi Alonso’s men.

Late, improbable comebacks have been a defining feature of this hard-nosed team’s unbeaten run, but Lookman’s third goal 15 minutes from time put an end to any lingering hopes Leverkusen fans had of their heroes producing another unlikely escape.

“We were not planning to have a bad day today, but it was not meant to be,” Alonso told TNT Sports after the game. “We couldn’t cope with many difficult situations because Atalanta demand so much from you.

“The unbeaten run has come to an end, but congratulations to Atalanta. They deserved it. Once they scored the first goal, that gave them a lot of energy. It was not about tactics, today individually they were better and as a team as well.”

Though Alonso and Leverkusen fell at the penultimate hurdle in their unlikely quest for an unbeaten season, the team still has the chance to end this incredible campaign on a high when they face second division Kaiserslautern in the German Cup final.

“We’ll learn from that,”Alonso said. “It hurts that the defeat comes on a big day but we have another final on Saturday and we will try and learn from today.”

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