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Atalanta win Europa League, ending Leverkusen's 51-match unbeaten run

Michael Regan / Getty Images Sport / Getty

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Ademola Lookman single-handedly ended Atalanta's 61-year wait for silverware and Bayer Leverkusen's historic 51-match unbeaten run in one fell swoop, scoring a hat-trick Wednesday in Dublin to win the Italian side the Europa League.

Leverkusen's streak owed much to the dramatic last-minute heroics of their players, and many expected them to pull off yet another multi-goal comeback after they conceded twice to Lookman in the first half. But the Nigerian eradicated any lingering thoughts with his third, his left-footed rocket nestling in the far corner in the 75th minute to confirm a famous 3-0 win.

The only other title Atalanta have won is the 1963 Italian Cup.

The result also means Italy will have six teams in the Champions League next season if Atalanta remain in fifth place in Serie A. They'd then relinquish the berth they earned from their top-five finish to sixth-place Roma.

The last time an Italian team won the Europa League was in 1999 when Parma became champions of the formerly named UEFA Cup.

Bundesliga champions Leverkusen can still end the year with one more trophy. They face second-tier Kaiserslautern in the German Cup final on Saturday.

Wednesday's victory is a crowning achievement for Gian Piero Gasperini, who's transformed Atalanta from a Serie A bottom-feeder into one of Italy's most competitive teams since being appointed in 2016. He's done it on a fraction of the budget of most of his trophy-chasing peers, with Atalanta routinely selling off players for a profit. Just last summer, the Bergamo-based outfit earned more than €150 million from player transfers, including the sale of Rasmus Hojlund to Manchester United.

Gasperini's Atalanta had lost every one of their previous three finals - all in the Coppa Italia and twice to serial winners Juventus - but made good on the club's first trip to a European final.

It wasn't particularly close. Leverkusen had entered the showpiece event as the favorite, having completed the Bundesliga's first-ever unbeaten season on the weekend, but Xabi Alonso's side couldn't handle Atalanta's high-energy pressing from the start.

Lookman snuck past Exequiel Palacios to turn in Atalanta's first and profited from a giveaway in midfield before burying his second. He then became the first player to score a hat-trick in the final of a major European competition since Jupp Heynckes managed the feat in the 1975 UEFA Cup for Borussia Monchengladbach.

With Portuguese champions Sporting CP, Liverpool, and Marseille standing in their way in the knockout stages, Atalanta's place in the Europa League final was far from guaranteed. After eking out a narrow aggregate win over Sporting, Gasperini's side won 3-0 at Anfield and beat Marseille by the same score at home before flying to Dublin, where they'd condemn Leverkusen to the same fate.

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