EUROPA FINAL: 3 Nigerian Players Boniface, Tella, Lookman Clash In Dublin 22 May

EUROPA FINAL: 3 Nigerian Players Boniface, Tella, Lookman Clash In Dublin 22 May

*Ademola Lookman of Nigeria and Atalanta FC, Italy

High flying newly-crowned Bundesliga champions, Bayer Leverkusen extended their unbeaten runs the 2023/2024 season to 49 games as they mounted a later equalizer against hard-fighting Atalanta at Leverkusen on Thursday. The German champions, with two Nigerian internationals, Victor Boniface Okoh and Nathan Tella, struck two late goals to book a UEFA Europa League final date with Ademola Lookman’s Atalanta in Dublin come May 22.  Josip Stanisic preserved Bayer Leverkusen’s remarkable unbeaten run with a last-gasp equaliser in the 97th minute against Roma as the Germans reached the Europa League final.

*Victor Boniface & Nathan Tella of Nigeria and Leverkusen

Not for the first time in recent weeks Leverkusen looked set to taste their maiden defeat of the season only to somehow fight back in the dying minutes of added time. They took a 2-0 lead into the second leg on home soil but Leandro Paredes scored twice from the penalty spot to draw the Italian side level on aggregate.

*Croatian Leverkusen defender Josip Stanisic scored the leveler

Leverkusen got themselves back in front in the tie in the 82nd minute via an own goal from Gianluca Mancini but it was not until the seventh minute of injury time that Croatian Josip Stanisic found the bottom corner to make it 4-2 on aggregate. By extending their run to 49 games unbeaten, Leverkusen broke Benfica’s record for the longest sequence without defeat by a top-flight European team in all competitions.

In the final in Dublin on 22 May they will take on Atalanta, who eased to a 3-0 victory over Marseille for a 4-1 aggregate win to reach their first European showpiece.

Speaking prior to the match, Leverkusen coach, Xabi Alonso said on Wednesday that the success of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich in European topmost flight this season demonstrates how impressive and tough the Bundesliga currently is. Alonso, speaking on the brink of the Europa League final, congratulated Dortmund for making the Champions League final after beating Paris Saint-Germain 2-0 on aggregate on Tuesday. Bayer Leverkusen booked their place in the Europa League final by holding AS Roma to a 2-2 draw winning on 4-2 aggregate after their 2-0 lead from the first leg victory in Rome.

The 42-year-old manager said “A return leg is always a dangerous situation. No matter what the first result was, a goal can quickly change the situation and the mindset. “We want to be aggressive, to control the game and to defend well.”

Last season, Roma defeated Leverkusen over two legs to make it to the final and Alonso said the bitter memory of that May evening would motivate them. “We haven’t forgotten what we experienced in our stadium and the feeling we felt last year. We must use this energy and hopefully we can celebrate at the end.”

Leverkusen defender Edmund Tapsoba echoed Alonso’s statements, telling reporters “we saw last season how our fans suffered after the defeat against Roma. We want to give back to them for what they did for us this season.” And they truly did pay Roma back in the nail-biting encounter at Leverkusen on Thursday night.

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