Hat-trick hero helps Atalanta end 61-year title drought

Atalanta winger Ademola Lookman was unstoppable and Bayer Leverkusen's impossible dream of completing an entire season unbeaten with a hat-trick of titles proved to be just that.

Instead, Lookman was the hat-trick hero in Atalanta's 3-0 win over Leverkusen in the Europa League final in Dublin on Wednesday (Thursday AEST).

It was a beating few saw coming for the new German champions, whose European record unbeaten run was stopped at 51 games.

Lookman, the London-born Nigeria international, was ruthless, punishing errors by Leverkusen players to score twice in the first 26 minutes of a game where the favourites never looked at ease. He capped his solo show with an arrowing shot in the 75th minute.

Atalanta's Ademola Lookman.
Atalanta's Ademola Lookman scored a hat-trick in his side's victory in the Euoropa League final. (AP PHOTO)

"It's one of the best nights of my life," said 26-year-old Lookman, who was loaned out and then sold by both Everton and Leipzig before finding the club that fully appreciated him. "I've always had the confidence."

In any normal season, or a typical European final, Atalanta and their veteran coach Gian Piero Gasperini would be a feel-good soccer story.

What's not to love for neutral fans in the big-money Super League era? A well-run club from a small provincial city playing attractive soccer on a modest budget for a loyal coach to lift their first top-level trophy for 61 years.

Instead, it fell to Atalanta to play the bad guys and stop Leverkusen's shot at European soccer immortality.

Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso must now lift his players for the German Cup final on Saturday. They will start as heavy favourites to beat second-tier Kaiserslautern in the Olympic Stadium, Berlin.

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

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.

Alonso's big selection call on Wednesday was to prefer Exequiel Palacios in midfield over Robert Andrich, but the 2022 World Cup winner with Argentina was at fault for the opening goal.

Palacios, defending the far post, was unaware of Lookman behind him when a ball across the goal-mouth from Davide Zappacosta eluded everyone. Lookman darted in on Palacios' blind side to score.

It was 2-0 in the 26th minute when Leverkusen yet again gave away the ball in the heart of their own half. Amine Adli's aimless header back towards his own defence bounced to Lookman.

The former Everton player eluded Granit Xhaka's tackle and curled his right-footed shot into the corner of the net beyond goalkeeper Matěj Kovář.

It was the fourth time Leverkusen had trailed 2-0 in a Europa League knockout round game since March, but the season-long flurry of late and stoppage-time goals eluded Leverkusen this time.