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EUROPA League

Ajax seek Old Glory, Man U wants Record

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Ajax Amsterdam and Manchester United on Thursday night booked their places in the final of the Europa Cup.

Manchester progressed to the final after surviving a late scare by determined Celta while Ajax progressed on 5-4 aggregate despite losing 1-3 to French side, Lyon. Both sides are to meet in the final slated for Stockholm’s Friends Arena on May 24.

For Manchester United, they are aiming to become the fifth team after Ajax, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Juventus to have won all three UEFA’s major club competitions – European Champions Clubs’ Cup, UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League and European Cup Winners’ Cup.

In the case of Ajax, this is their 25th campaign in the competition. This is the first time in 21 years since the Nigerian duo of Finidi George and Nwankwo Kanu inspired the club to European Cup victory in 1996.

Apart from the Europa Cup victory, both Manchester and Ajax as bonus incentive will seek the Europa Cup as automatic entry into the UEFA Champions League next season.

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This season is the third time in which the winners of the UEFA Europa League will gain automatic entry into the UEFA Champions League.

Both had met four times before in previous seasons. The first was in the 1976/77 UEFA Cup first round in which Manchester United overturned an away goal deficit and won 2-0 at home.

Next was the 2011/2012 UEFA Europa League round of 32 when each won the away clashes. Manchester United beat Ajax 2-0 in Amsterdam but surprisingly lost 1-2 at home.

 

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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EUROPA League

Hat-trick hero Lookman takes winding road to Europa League triumph

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 Europa League - Final - Atalanta v Bayer Leverkusen - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland - May 22, 2024 Atalanta's Ademola Lookman poses for a picture with the trophy after winning the Europa League Final REUTERS/Paul Childs 

Atalanta’s Europa League hat-trick hero Ademola Lookman admitted that he had to wait a while for success after years in and out of favour at different clubs but said it was “just the beginning” after he sank Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday.

The Nigeria forward became the first person to score a hat-trick in a Europa League final in the 3-0 win, which handed the Bergamo club their first major trophy in 61 years and ended the German champions’ remarkable 51-game unbeaten streak.

“Maybe it could have come earlier, but it’s come now,” said the 26-year-old Lookman, who bounced around in England with Everton, Fulham and Leicester City and in Germany with RB Leipzig before settling in Atalanta two seasons ago.

“This is just the beginning. I hope for more nights like this and to just keep getting better and better,” he told a news conference.

Lookman, who was a youth international for England, credited the Atalanta coaching staff and leadership of manager Gian Piero Gasperini for his revival. Since arriving at the club, he has scored 30 goals in 76 matches.

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He pointed in particular to Gasperini’s belief in attacking football that has helped him to flourish.

“The first conversations I had with him made me look at football a lot different. It made things simple. It allowed me to play my game in a different light. I’m very grateful to him,” he said.

Asked if he would have imagined such a night in his wildest dreams while starting out as a teenager at Charlton Athletic, Lookman responded: “Probably yeah.”

“I’ve always had the confidence in my ability to create, to score goals, to help my team mates. In the past two years I’ve been able to take my game to a whole new level,” he said.

-Reuters

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Ademola is Player of the Match

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Atalanta’s hat-trick hero Ademola Lookman was named Player of the Match after scoring a historic hat trick for his club in the Europa League final match.

 UEFA’s Technical Observer Panel said: “[It’s awarded] for obvious reasons and his all-round enthusiasm and energy. [He was] really sharp and his execution was spot on.”

Ademola Lookman, Player of the Match, speaking to TNT Sports: remarked: “It’s one of the best nights of my life. It was an amazing performance from the team. We did it – fantastic. I’m just happy we won. We made history tonight.”

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Nigeria’s Sports Minister salute Europa League hero, Ademola Lookman

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Ademola Lookman, the history maker is held aloft

Nigeria’s  Minister of Sports Development, John Owan Enoh, has showered encomiums on Super Eagles winger Ademola Lookman for his extraordinary performance in the Europa League final.

 Lookman scored a historic hat-trick, leading Atalanta to their first European title on Thursday night in Dublin, Ireland.

Lookman’s three goals secured a 3-0 victory for Atalanta against Bayer Leverkusen, ending their opponents’ 51-game undefeated streak and marking the first-ever hat-trick in a Europa League final.

This victory also signifies Atalanta’s second major trophy, their first since winning the Coppa Italia 61 years ago.

In his congratulatory message, Enoh praised Lookman’s exceptional talent and dedication, which have brought immense pride to Nigeria.

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“Ademola Lookman has demonstrated remarkable skill and resilience, leading Atalanta to a historic victory. His performance in the Europa League final was nothing short of spectacular, and he has made Nigeria proud on the global stage. We celebrate his achievement and look forward to many more milestones in his career with club and country,” said Senator Enoh.

The Sports Minister also extended his congratulations to Victor Boniface and Nathan Tella, who played pivotal roles in leading Bayer Leverkusen to the final. Their contributions were integral in securing the German Bundesliga title, with the German Cup still within reach.

“Victor Boniface and Nathan Tella have also shown exceptional prowess and determination throughout the season. Their journey to the Europa League final and success in the Bundesliga is commendable. They serve as an inspiration to young athletes in Nigeria and around the world. I urge them to take pride in their performances and success this season,” Senator Enoh added.

The Nigerian football community celebrates these achievements, reflecting the growing influence and talent of Nigerian players in international football.

Lookman scored the opener in the 12th minute through superior sharpness, before hitting a brace with a fine curler in the 26th minute. He secured his hat trick in the 75th with a pile-driver hit of a goal.

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