Lookman hat-trick denies Boniface and Leverkusen invincibility and Europa League trophy  

Ademola Lookman produced one of the best individual performances in a European final as Atalanta thrashed Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 to win the UEFA Europa League. Gian Piero Gasperini’s side put up a flawless display at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, to win the coveted trophy.

Having lost the Coppa Italia final against Juventus last week, Atalanta were second-time lucky as they claimed a deserved victory against the German champions while also inflicting on them their first defeat of the season after 52 matches in all competitions.

There was high Nigerian interest ahead of the Europa League final, with Victor Boniface and Nathan Tella lining up for Leverkusen as Lookman also played for the opposite side. Lookman was selected to start for Atalanta and formed part of a front three alongside Charles De Ketelaere and Gianluca Scamacca.

Lookman hat-trick denies Boniface and Leverkusen invincibility and Europa League trophy
Photo by Icon Sport

Boniface, however, had to start from the bench, with Leverkusen boss Xavi Alonso preferring Amine Adli as his starting striker. Tella also started from the bench, as Jeremie Frimpong took his place in the starting line-up after being deployed higher up the pitch.

Ademola Lookman scores hat-trick to power Atalanta to Europa League 

It didn’t matter much, though, that only one Nigerian was on the pitch when the referee blew his whistle for kick-off, with Lookman completely stealing the show. The 26-year-old delivered a memorable performance in the Europa League final after netting a sensational hat-trick to power Atalanta to the trophy. 

The former Everton star opened the scoring in the 12th minute when he reacted quickest to Davide Zappacosta’s low cross before prodding the ball home. His second strike came with a bit more individual brilliance as he took on his marker to open space before firing the ball into the bottom corner.

Lookman completed his hat-trick with 15 minutes left when he once again found the far corner with a brilliant left-footed strike from the flanks. The Nigeria international was given a hero’s reception by his teammates at full-time as acknowledgement for his sensational performance in the Europa League final.

He has chalked a couple of records on the night, including becoming the first player to ever score a hat-trick in a one-off UEFA Cup/Europa League final. Lookman also became the third Nigerian footballer to score in a Europa League final after Alex Iwobi in 2019 and Joe Aribo in 2022 while being the first African to find the back of the net twice or more in a European final.

Heartbreak for Boniface and Tella as Leverkusen’s invincibility and treble hopes crash 

But while there was joy for Lookman and Atalanta, Boniface, Tella and Leverkusen had to endure the misery of losing out on the trophy. Not only did the German side miss out on winning the Europa League, but they have also now lost their unbeaten run.

Alonso’s side had gone 51 matches without tasting defeat prior to Wednesday’s final. Having completed the Bundesliga season unbeaten en route to being crowned champions, Leverkusen were aiming to make further history by achieving an invincible season in all competitions.

That will no longer be possible following their disappointing defeat in the Europa League final. Boniface was summoned from the bench at half-time when he replaced Josip Stanisic but the striker couldn’t do much in the 45 minutes that he played as Atalanta put up a resolute performance in defence.

Tella also came on in the 81st minute but it was too late to affect the game as Lookman’s hat-trick proved to be the difference in the Europa League final. Boniface and Tella’s hopes of winning the treble might have crashed, but they could still win the double this season.

Leverkusen will face FC Kaiserslautern on Saturday in the final of the DFB Pokal, in a game where Alonso’s side are huge favourites. Lookman and Atalanta will, however, now turn their attention to finishing the Serie A season strongly.

Gasperini’s side have secured their place in next season’s UEFA Champions League after winning the Europa League, but they could still finish in the top four in the Serie A. Atalanta are currently fifth on the league table and two points behind Juventus with a game in hand. This means they will leapfrog the Old Lady if they win their final two matches of the season against Torino and Fiorentina.

Meanwhile, Lookman is also now the frontrunner for the CAF Footballer of the Year award after enjoying a brilliant season. The 26-year-old reached the final of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2024) with Nigeria earlier this year, and scored three goals as he was named in the team of the tournament.

He also boasts 15 goals and eight assists for Atalanta this season. Having now added a European trophy, Lookman is in a prime position to succeed his compatriot Victor Osimhen as the best player on the continent. 

Lookman hat-trick denies Boniface and Leverkusen invincibility and Europa League trophy  
Emmanuel Ayamga

Emmanuel Ayamga is an Asante Kotoko fan and a passionate sports journalist with a little over five years of experience writing about African football.

His articles and features have been published in renowned news media like The Guardian, DW, Al Jazeera and Sportskeeda. His bylines can also be found in the UK journals World Soccer Magazine and These Football Times.