Alonso feels the pain of Europa League loss as Leverkusen now look to German Cup final

May 23 – Losing for the first time in 361 days was a bitter pill to swallow for Bayer Leverkusen’s young coach Xabi Alonso following 51 unbeaten games. 

“These defeats in finals, you don’t forget them,” said Alonso following the 3-0 upset defeat to Atalanta in the Europa League final on Wednesday.

Now Alonso must lift his Bundesliga champions for another final, the last game of Leverkusen’s season, in the German cup final Saturday against second-tier Kaiserslautern.

“It is going to be a challenge for us,” said Alonso.  “When you’re a runner-up it is really difficult to deal with. Tonight is not going to be an easy night.”

“It has been quite exceptional what we have achieved,” added the former Liverpool lynchpin who accepted his team had been outplayed and often out-muscled.

“It is very demanding to play against Atalanta. There were a number of one-to-one duels where we came out second best.”

Meanwhile, hat-trick hero Ademola Lookman, the London-born Nigeria international once on Everton’s books, described Wednesday as “one of the best nights of my life.”

Lookman, 26, never really made it in English football but has now netted 15 goals in each of his two seasons with Atalanta.

“I’ve always had the confidence in my ability. In the past two years I’ve been able to take my game to a new level and show it on a more consistent basis,” he said.

“Maybe it could have come earlier but it’s come now. I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made but this is just the beginning. I hope for more nights like this.”

Following their first ever European silverware, Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini explained how his team managed to pull off such a stunning victory.

“We watched their games, we studied all their approaches and the two matches in the semi-final against Roma really helped too,” said Gasperini.

“We had also played against them two years ago in the Europa League Round of 16, we did well and there are still six or seven players from that squad. Xabi Alonso arrived and did an extraordinary job but we knew that there were ways of causing problems for them.

“Our game plan worked from start to finish and these lads were extraordinary. Lookman scored three wonderful goals. When he arrived he was not quite a striker, more of a winger, but his best qualities are near the goal. Nobody could ever imagine he could make this much progress. He wasn’t overly prolific in England. I changed his position to a more attacking role. Tonight he achieved something which will remain in the annals of football history.”

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