Lookman hat-trick fires Atalanta to Europa League, ends Leverkusen’s unbeaten run

Atalanta's Ademola Lookman scores his side's second goal during the Europa League final soccer match between Atalanta and Bayer Leverkusen at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 23 May 2024
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Lookman hat-trick fires Atalanta to Europa League, ends Leverkusen’s unbeaten run

  • Lookman became the first player to score a hat-trick in a European final since 1975 to secure Atalanta’s first ever continental trophy

DUBLIN: Ademola Lookman scored a stunning hat-trick as Atalanta ended Bayer Leverkusen’s 51-match unbeaten run to win the Europa League final 3-0 on Wednesday and claim their first trophy for 61 years.
Lookman became the first player to score a hat-trick in a European final since 1975 to secure Atalanta’s first ever continental trophy.
“One of the best nights of my life. Amazing performance from the team,” said Lookman.
“We’ve got to celebrate, we made history tonight.”
The side from Bergamo have long lived in the shadow of nearby giants AC and Inter Milan.
However, they have enjoyed a golden era under Gian Piero Gasperini, reaching the Champions League on four occasions, and now have silverware to show for it.
Leverkusen have made a habit of late fightbacks in their remarkable run to winning a first ever Bundesliga title without tasting defeat.
But this time they failed to dig themselves out of a hole created by a slow start.
“It’s a shame that the time it didn’t work out for us was in a final,” said Leverkusen midfielder Granit Xhaka.
“It’s bitter, definitely, we lost a final today but we go on and we’ll make up for it on Saturday (in the German Cup final).
Atalanta’s more purposeful play in the opening stages was rewarded after just 12 minutes.
Davide Zappacosta got to the by-line and Lookman caught Exequiel Palacios napping to fire into the top corner at the back post.
The Nigerian has at times endured a nomadic career, bouncing around the lower reaches of the Premier League on loan spells at Fulham and Leicester after being discarded by RB Leipzig.
But Lookman has found a home in Bergamo, where he will now forever be a hero.

The 26-year-old’s second goal was fit to win any final as he nutmegged Xhaka before curling a powerful shot into the far corner.
Leverkusen’s flying full-backs have been at the heart of their stunning season and should have got them back in the game either side of half-time.
Alex Grimaldo fired tamely into the arms of Juan Musso before Jeremie Frimpong blazed over with the goal gaping.
Leverkusen were also denied a lifeline when Gianluca Scamacca was lucky to escape with a yellow card for wild challenge on Florian Wirtz.
For the fourth time in seven Europa League knockout matches, Xabi Alonso’s men found themselves 2-0 down.
Alonso has enjoyed a rapid rise to become one of Europe’s hottest coaching properties.
The Spaniard has rejected the advances of former clubs Liverpool and Bayern Munich to remain at the BayArena next season.
However, Alonso’s decision to start without a recognized striker did not work and he threw on Victor Boniface at half-time to give his side a focal point up front.
The damage, though, was already done as the German champions looked a side drained by their record run across three competitions.
Atalanta were happy to soak up the Leverkusen pressure after the break and hit on the counter-attack.
The final blow was another fabulous finish from Lookman as he skipped past Edmond Tapsoba and this time blasted into the top corner on his weaker left foot.
Atalanta had lost all three of their previous finals under Gasperini, most recently in last week’s Coppa Italia defeat to Juventus.
But this time they were not to be denied their shot at history as they were roared across the finishing line by the thousands clad in blue and black that had made the trip from northern Italy to the Irish capital.
In doing so they became the first Italian side to win the competition since Parma lifted the UEFA Cup in 1999.


Dominant Spain brush past Italy to reach Euro 2024 knockouts

Updated 21 June 2024
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Dominant Spain brush past Italy to reach Euro 2024 knockouts

  • For Italy Thursday’s deserved defeat was a reality check as vibrant Spain peppered the brilliant Gianliugi Donnarumma’s goal throughout the match while the Azzurri failed to have a single attempt on target

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany: Spain qualified for the last 16 of Euro 2024 with a match to spare on Thursday after beating Italy 1-0 in a dominant display which ensured that La Roja would go through as Group B winners.
Riccardo Calafiori’s own goal nine minutes after half-time was the difference between the two sides at Gelsenkirchen in the biggest match to date at the tournament in Germany.
But the slender margin of victory didn’t reflect a statement performance from Spain who completely nullified Italy and should have had the game won by half-time, as they did in their opening round thumping of Croatia.
Nico Williams was the star for Spain as he ran Napoli right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo ragged and supplied the cross from which the unfortunate Calafiori poked the winning goal into his own net.
Luis de la Fuente’s team have a perfect six points at the top of the group and take on Albania on Monday knowing that they are already in the knockout rounds and playing like potential champions.
For Italy Thursday’s deserved defeat was a reality check as vibrant Spain peppered the brilliant Gianliugi Donnarumma’s goal throughout the match while the Azzurri failed to have a single attempt on target.
It was a performance reminiscent of the Euro 2012 final between the two teams when Spain crushed Italy 4-0 in the last international hurrah for tiki-taka football.
However all is not lost for Luciano Spalletti’s team, who are second on three points, as a draw with Croatia on Monday will be enough to guarantee qualification behind Spain.
Spain could have been ahead twice in the first 10 minutes but squandered two great headed chances.
Less than two minutes were on the clock when an unmarked Pedri nodded Williams’ pinpoint cross straight at Donnarumma.
And then Williams, who had a field day against Di Lorenzo, was the guilty party by somehow heading wide Alvaro Morata’s superbly delivered, inswinging ball from the left flank.
Spain were clearly on top as Italy struggled to get out of their half, Gianluca Scamacca toiling on his own up front with little support and wasting possession when it did come his way.
Donnarumma had to be at his best twice within a matter of seconds when he first stuck out a foot to deny Morata and then pulled off a superb fingertip save which kept out Fabian Ruiz’s powerful drive from distance.
Meanwhile at the other end of the pitch Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon was a virtual spectator as Italy’s sole shot in the first half came just before the break when Federico Chiesa blazed a poor effort over from a difficult position.
The same pattern of Spanish possession and Italian defending continued after half-time and Pedri again wasted a great chance in the 51st minute, slamming wide after Marc Cucurella pulled back a perfect low cross.
But Spain got the breakthrough soon after and it came through more sensational play from Williams on the left, who made mincemeat of Di Lorenzo before fizzing across a ball which Calafiori couldn’t help but divert into his own goal.
La Roja went close to doubling their lead with two distance strikes from Morata and teen sensation Lamine Yamal, before the superb Williams smashed an effort past Donnarumma which came crashing out off the crossbar in the 71st minute.
Italy pushed forward in hope of an equalizer after Mattia Zaccagni and Mateo Retegui replaced the ineffective Chiesa and Scamacca.
But in the dying moments Donnarumma again made two superb saves to twice stop Ayoze Perez making the scoreline better reflect a one-sided contest.


Lacklustre England held by Denmark at Euro 2024

Updated 20 June 2024
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Lacklustre England held by Denmark at Euro 2024

  • Harry Kane had given the Three Lions an early lead as England pounced on a Danish defensive error
  • Hjulmand’s rocket from outside the box levelled before half-time and Denmark were left to rue missing late chances to secure a famous victory

FRANKFURT: England failed to guarantee their place in the knockout stages of Euro 2024 after Morten Hjulmand’s spectacular strike earned Denmark a 1-1 draw on Thursday.
A point was the least the Danes deserved as England again flattered to deceive in Frankfurt after an underwhelming 1-0 win over Serbia to open their tournament.
Harry Kane had given the Three Lions an early lead as England pounced on a Danish defensive error.
Hjulmand’s rocket from outside the box levelled before half-time and Denmark were left to rue missing late chances to secure a famous victory.
England remain on top of Group C, two points clear of Slovenia, who they face in Cologne on Tuesday, and Denmark.
Serbia’s late equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Slovenia earlier on Thursday also keeps their destiny in their own hands.
England boss Gareth Southgate said on Wednesday that he avoids media coverage during tournaments to escape negative stories.
But will be braced for more criticism after another flat display from one of the pre-tournament favorites.
Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel claimed on the eve of the game they would not be fueled by revenge for their Euro 2020 semifinal heartbreak to England three years ago.
However, the Danes were a different beast from the side that disappointed at the 2022 World Cup and in drawing against Slovenia to open their tournament in Germany.
Denmark had made the brighter start as both sides struggled to cope with a bobbly pitch in Frankfurt that cut up badly in just its second game of five at Euro 2024.
Yet, England capitalized on a howler from Hjulmand’s men to take the lead on 18 minutes.
Victor Kristiansen was caught unaware of Kyle Walker’s run down the right and his deflected low cross fell perfectly for Kane to roll in his 13th goal at major tournaments.
Failing to build on early 1-0 leads has been a consistent criticism of England under Southgate.
In the 2018 World Cup semifinal and final of Euro 2020, Croatia and Italy were able to wrestle away momentum from the Three Lions.
This time Denmark were not deterred by conceding, although it took a spectacular strike to bring them level.
Hjulmand was given far too much room by the England midfield to take aim but he took full advantage form long range with a blistering shot that clipped the inside of the post on its way in.
Southgate made no changes at the break, but the future of his experiment of playing Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold in a midfield role is in doubt after he was hooked for Conor Gallagher on 55 minutes.
Phil Foden’s form for England had been a source of much debate after he again failed to shine at international level against Serbia.
The Manchester City playmaker looked much more like the man that won Premier League player of the year awards this season and was inches away from restoring England’s lead with a low drive that came crashing back off the post.
Southgate’s caution has been criticized in the past, but he was bold with his changes in the search for a winner as Kane, Foden and Bukayo Saka were sacrificed for Eberechi Eze, Ollie Watkins and Jarrod Bowen.
Watkins nearly made an immediate impact as he was denied by Schmeichel after a brilliant through ball from Jude Bellingham.
Yet, it was Denmark who had the better chances to take all three points in the closing stages.
Andreas Christensen spooned over when unmarked from a corner before Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg curled inches wide.


Ukraine seek to bounce back against Slovakia after surprise opening loss

Updated 20 June 2024
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Ukraine seek to bounce back against Slovakia after surprise opening loss

  • Ukraine had a shock 3-0 loss to Romania that included costly errors from Real Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin
  • Another loss could mean elimination for Ukraine, which were a quarterfinalist in 2021

DUESSELDORF, Germany: Slovakia face Ukraine on Friday in Duesseldorf in their second Group E match at the European Championship.

Slovakia are second to Romania on goal difference, and Ukraine are last. Romania and Belgium play on Saturday.
Ukraine had a shock 3-0 loss to Romania that included costly errors from Real Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin. Another loss could mean elimination for Ukraine, which were a quarterfinalist in 2021.
Ukrainian players apologized to their fans for the Romania loss, and held a team meeting in the locker room after that game without coach Serhiy Rebrov present to work out what went wrong. That was “absolutely normal,” the coach said Thursday.
Slovakia are riding high after surprising Belgium 1-0 but needed two video reviews to overturn Belgium goals. One was deemed offside and a sensor in the ball detected a handball on the second.
The Slovakians know not to get too excited by an opening win. At the last European Championship they beat Poland but then lost to Sweden and Spain and didn’t advance. That meant there was only “a bit of euphoria for a few short hours” when Slovakia beat Belgium this time, coach Francesco Calzona said.
Ukraine coach Rebrov indicated he will make changes to the lineup which lost to Romania and said some unnamed players were carrying “micro-injuries.”
Defender Vitaliy Mykolenko sustained severe bruising in a pre-tournament friendly with Moldova and was an unused substitute against Romania but was expected to train with the team Thursday evening, Rebrov said.
One option for Rebrov could be to replace 34-year-old captain Taras Stepanenko with the 22-year-old Volodymyr Brazhko in defensive midfield. Brazhko debuted for the team only in March as Ukraine qualified for Euro 2024 through the playoffs.
Slovakia coach Calzona says his players are all available but he has yet to decide on his starting lineup.
The average age of Slovakia’s starting lineup in the win over Belgium was over 30 as the team relied on the experience of two 37-year-olds, defender Peter Pekarik and Juraj Kucka, and the 35-year-old goalkeeper Martin Dubravka. Ukraine’s players against Romania were on average four and a half years younger.
The teams have a fairly even record, with three wins for Slovakia, two for Ukraine and three draws. Slovakia won their last game 4-1 in 2018.
A second win would make history for Slovakia, which have never won more than one game in any tournament they’ve played as an independent nation. As part of Czechoslovakia, they did win the 1976 European Championship, though.
“We want to turn the page and concentrate 100 percent on the Slovakia game... (The Romania game) is a very painful result for us but we need to learn the lessons and get ready for tomorrow’s game,” said Ukraine left back Oleksandr Zinchenko.
“I think our greatest quality is humility. We know that we always need to give 110 percent because we’re a small nation and we always want to put a big smile on the faces of our fans and our people,” said Calzona.
Slovak defender David Hancko said: “Ukraine has wonderful, young, talented players. They have a good system, they’re strong on the ball. ... We must play to the best of our abilities to be able to beat them.”


France coach says team doing all to ensure Mbappé available for Netherlands match at Euro 2024

Updated 20 June 2024
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France coach says team doing all to ensure Mbappé available for Netherlands match at Euro 2024

  • “He was able to take part in some light exercises yesterday,″ Deschamps said

LEIPZIG, Germany: France coach Didier Deschamps says his team are doing all “to ensure” Kylian Mbappé is available for the Euro 2024 clash against the Netherlands on Friday.
“Everything is going well, after the shock we had. He was able to take part in some light exercises yesterday and that will be the same this evening″ Deschamps said Thursday. “We’ll do all we can to ensure that he’ll be available tomorrow.”
Mbappé broke his nose in France’s opening 1-0 win over Austria on Monday when his face collided with Austria defender Kevin Danso’s shoulder. Blood stained his white France jersey. If he plays, he’ll need to wear a mask. But it remains uncertain.
Mbappé returned to light training on Wednesday and was expected to continue preparations on Thursday.


Late leveler by Serbia denies Slovenia first Euros win

Updated 20 June 2024
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Late leveler by Serbia denies Slovenia first Euros win

  • Žan Karničnik’s 69th-minute goal put Slovenia on the brink of a historic win until substitute Luka Jović levelled deep in stoppage time
  • The goal sent the Serbia fans into raucous joy but also saw them throw flares and other objects onto the field

MUNICH: A late strike denied Slovenia a first ever win in a European Championship as Serbia snatched a 1-1 draw on Thursday.
Žan Karničnik’s 69th-minute goal put Slovenia on the brink of a historic win until substitute Luka Jović levelled deep in stoppage time.
The goal sent the Serbia fans into raucous joy but also saw them throw flares and other objects onto the field.
The equalizer was virtually the last action as the referee blew fulltime immediately after the players restarted. The Slovenia players collapsed to the ground in disappointment.
It also would have been their first win in a major tournament since victory over Algeria in the 2010 World Cup.
Slovenia play England in their final group match on Tuesday, when Serbia face Denmark. Serbia lost to England in their opener.
With both teams needing a win to boost their chances of progressing, the match started at a fast pace and Serbia goalkeeper Predrag Rajković had to make two early saves.
Those two shots on target in the first eight minutes were as many as Slovenia had in total in their draw with Denmark.
Serbia withstood the waves of Slovenia attacks and had their first chance in the 27th minute but Dušan Vlahović’s header was straight at goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
Serbia went even closer moments later when Dušan Tadić whipped in a fabulous corner to the far post but Aleksandar Mitrović — who scored in his previous two matches against Slovenia — couldn’t get a proper touch.
The best chance of the half fell to Slovenia in somewhat fortunate circumstances. Timi Elšnik tried to pass to a teammate, but the ball came off a Serbia defender and fell kindly back to him for a thunderous effort which crashed off the right post. Benjamin Šeško fired the rebound woefully over.
Serbia started the second half with three great chances to break the deadlock inside the first five minutes, including Slovenia defender Jake Bijol almost scoring an own goal.
This tournament has seen plenty of stunning long-range goals and there was almost another in the 58th but Rajković did well to push Šeško’s strike over the bar.
Slovenia eventually broke the deadlock with a move started and finished by Žan Karničnik. The defender won the ball deep inside his own half and ran some 40 yards before picking out Elšnik on the left and racing into the box to collect the cross and tap home at the back post.
Serbia almost levelled immediately but Elšnik hit the crossbar.
Serbia threw everything at Slovenia in the final stages. Even Rajković came up for the final corner but it was Jović who leapt highest to head it past Oblak in the fifth minute of added time.