UEL Final: Boniface, Lookman & five other Africans in search of European glory

UEL Final: Boniface, Lookman & five other Africans in search of European glory

As the curtains continue to draw on club football for the 2023–24 season, major finals will be played across European leagues, as well as huge showdowns on different continental stages, one of them being the Europa League.

The second division of European club football will see a new champion crowned when German champions Bayer Leverkusen take on Italian side Atalanta in the competition’s final at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland.

The much-anticipated encounter will see a number of African stars on show for both sides, as players from Nigeria, Mali, Ivory Coast, Morocco, and Burkina Faso will all be in action in the Europa League final.

Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen boasts the Nigerian duo of Victor Boniface and Nathan Tella, Burkina Faso defender Edmond Tapsoba, Ivory Coast international Odilon Kossounou, and Morocco’s Amine Adli. Meanwhile, Atalanta has Nigerian forward Ademola Lookman and Mali forward El Bilal Toure, who both scored in their semifinal second-leg victory over Marseille.

Leverkusen (W42, D9), who clinched their first-ever Bundesliga title this season, head into the tie as favourites as their current 51-game unbeaten run is a European record. Die Werkself have won six of their last ten matches, and in their 12 matches in the Europa League, they have won nine and drawn three.

A win for the Germans extends their unbeaten run to 52 games, setting them up for an unprecedented treble-winning campaign, which may see them end the season without defeat if they also win their DFB-Pokal final against FC Kaiserslautern.

However, Atalanta, led by veteran Italian manager Gian Piero Gasperini, will be hoping their fairytale run in the competition ends with silverware. Playing in their first European final, they have seven wins, four draws, and a defeat in their 12 previous matches in the Europa League.

La Dea haven’t had it easy at all, as they had to see off tough competition in Sporting CP, Liverpool, and Marseille to seal a spot in the final.

The Italians boast the better head-to-head record against Leverkusen, with two wins in their two previous meetings against the Germans—a 4-2 aggregate score in the round of 16 in the 2021/22 season.

Leverkusen will hope to clinch their second European title since they lifted the 1988 UEFA Cup, while Atalanta could well become the first Italian side to lift the title when the two sides lock horns in the 15th UEFA Europa League final later tonight (Wednesday).

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