Barcelona to face Boca Juniors in Maradona Cup match in Saudi Arabia

By Sports Desk October 25, 2021

Barcelona will face Boca Juniors in an exhibition match Saudi Arabia in December in honour of Diego Maradona.

The inaugural Maradona Cup will take place at Mrsool Park in Riyadh on December 14, a little over a year after the former Argentina star died in his homeland at the age of 60 from heart failure a fortnight after undergoing brain surgery.

Maradona played for Boca in 1981-82 before moving to Europe with Barca, where he won the Copa del Rey, the Copa de la Liga and the Supercopa de Espana.

He returned to Boca for the final two years of his career before retiring in 1997.

The match will take place in the week after Barca face Bayern Munich away in their final Champions League group game, with a LaLiga game at Osasuna scheduled for December 11.

Ronald Koeman's side will be due back in Saudi Arabia in January 2022 for the Supercopa de Espana along with Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao.

Barca and Boca have met 10 times previously, most recently in the Joan Gamper exhibition game in 2018, which the Catalans won 3-0.

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    Gian Piero Gasperini and Ademola Lookman both cherished creating Atalanta history after ending Bayer Leverkusen's unbeaten run and securing Europa League glory.

    Lookman produced a performance worthy of the most important European moment in Atalanta's history, securing the club's first-ever major trophy on the continent after his dazzling hat-trick.

    The Nigeria winger is just the sixth player to manage a treble in a major UEFA final and the first since Jupp Heynckes’ for Borussia Mönchengladbach against Twente in 1975.

    Lookman will be the toast of Bergamo when Gasperini's side head home, boasting their first trophy in 61 years – after the Coppa Italia – following a 3-0 triumph to end Leverkusen's 51-game unbeaten run.

    "One of the best nights of my life," the hat-trick hero told TNT Sports in Dublin.

    "Amazing performance from the team, we did it, we did it, we did it! I haven't got much else to say, but fantastic."

    Lookman is also just the second player to score a treble for an Italian side in the final of a major European competition, after Pierino Prati for Milan against Ajax in the 1969 European Cup

    Preparing to leave the Aviva Stadium with the Europa League trophy in hand, Lookman could not wait to celebrate a seismic moment in the club's history.

    "We've got to celebrate, we made history tonight," he added.

    Gasperini, aged 66 years and 117 days on Wednesday, is the oldest coach to win his debut major European final, and the second Italian coach to win the Europa League after Maurizio Sarri in 2019.

    The veteran Atalanta mastermind echoed Lookman's sentiment, after securing just a second trophy in the Italian club's history.

    "I think we wrote history, also for the way we won it," said Gasperini, speaking to UEFA's official media channels.

    "It was just extraordinary, we defeated Liverpool, Sporting who won the championship. When we faced Liverpool they were first in the Premier League... And now the German champions.

    "Incredible. The boys were extraordinary, a memorable performance."

  • Lookman etches name into Atalanta history after Europa League glory against Leverkusen Lookman etches name into Atalanta history after Europa League glory against Leverkusen

    Ademola Lookman will be the toast of Bergamo after his hat-trick inspired Atalanta to Europa League glory, ending Bayer Leverkusen's 51-game unbeaten run after a 3-0 defeat in Dublin.

    Nigeria winger Lookman is just the second player to score a treble for an Italian side in the final of a major European competition, after Pierino Prati for Milan against Ajax in the 1969 European Cup.

    His single-handed match-winning heroics secured Atalanta's first-ever major European trophy as they became the 10th different Italian side to do so, second only to teams from England (13).

    The records continued to tumble for Lookman, whose hat-trick was the sixth in a major UEFA final and the first since Jupp Heynckes’ for Borussia Mönchengladbach against Twente in 1975.

    Having no response to a performance for the ages, Leverkusen suffered their first defeat since their final game of the 2022-23 season, ending a 361-day unbeaten run from last losing 3-0 to Bochum.

    Gian Piero Gasperini's masterclass will etch his name into Atalanta history, with the Italian – aged 66 years and 117 days on Wednesday – the fourth oldest manager to win a major European trophy.

    Only Raymond Goethals (71y 231d, 1993 Champions League), Heynckes (68y 16d, 2013 Champions League) and Alex Ferguson (66y 142d, 2008 Champions League), have done so at an older age.

    Owing to Gasperini's genius and Lookman's quality, Atalanta are the first Italian side to lift the Europa League trophy since its rebrand in 2009, with Parma in 1999 the last Serie A side to win the UEFA Cup.

    Alonso will hope to bounce back in Saturday's DFB-Pokal final but the Bundesliga champions are the first team to win the league title but lose the UEFA Cup/Europa League final in the same season since Benfica in 2013-14, and the first German side to do since Borussia Dortmund in 2001-02.

  • Atalanta 3-0 Bayer Leverkusen: Alonso's unbeaten run ends as Lookman hat-trick settles Europa League final Atalanta 3-0 Bayer Leverkusen: Alonso's unbeaten run ends as Lookman hat-trick settles Europa League final

    Ademola Lookman produced a performance for the ages as his hat-trick ended Bayer Leverkusen's 51-game unbeaten streak and saw Atalanta claim the Europa League with a 3-0 win in Dublin.

    Xabi Alonso's Bundesliga title champions were eyeing an unlikely treble this season, but those plans came to a crashing halt as Atalanta secured their first-ever European silverware.

    Lookman did the early damage with his first-half brace, the second of which was an eye-catching solo strike, as Gian Piero Gasperini's Serie A side seized unexpected control on Wednesday.

    Comeback masters Leverkusen may have fancied a late fightback but Lookman's thumping 75th-minute finish completed his hat-trick and ensured Alonso's team suffered defeat for the first time this season, in what was their penultimate match of an exceptional campaign.

    Leverkusen were punished for a slow start as Atalanta, making their maiden appearance in a European final, capitalised with just 12 minutes gone at the Aviva Stadium.

    Exequiel Palacios was caught unaware at the back post as Davide Zappacosta slammed a low right-sided cross for Lookman to fire into the top-left corner from close range.

    Lookman doubled his tally 14 minutes later, coolly flicking through the legs of Granit Xhaka before curling a right-footed finish into the bottom-right corner from the cusp of Leverkusen's area.

    Alex Grimaldo should have responded shortly after but aimed a timid lob straight at the onrushing Juan Musso, who gratefully grasped the chipped effort when way out of his goal.

    Charles De Ketelaere fizzed into the hands of Matej Kovar, while Granit Xhaka whipped wide before Alonso introduced striker Victor Boniface at the break.

    That alteration failed to change the tide as Jeremie Frimpong blazed over the only chance before the hour-mark – and there would be no way back after Lookman scored his third with 15 minutes remaining.

    Gianluca Scamacca played a simple offload out to his left, with Lookman breezing past Edmond Tapsoba before cannoning a wonderful left-footed strike beyond Kovar to seal a famous night for the team from Bergamo.

    Atalanta savour legend Lookman

    Lookman has etched his name into Atalanta history after helping Gasperini's side become the first Italian side to win the Europa League.

    The Nigeria international is the sixth player to score a hat-trick in the final of a major UEFA competition, and the first since Jupp Heynckes' for Borussia Monchengladbach in the 1975 UEFA Cup.

    Lookman's match-winning heroics will live long in the memory of Atalanta supporters, who will cherish just their second major trophy in club history – 61 years after winning the Coppa Italia.

    Neverlusen comes to an end

    Prior to this stunning defeat, Leverkusen were undefeated in all 12 Europa League games this season (W9 D3) and aiming to become the fourth side to win the trophy unbeaten, along with Chelsea in 2018-19, Villarreal in 2020-21 and Eintracht Frankfurt in 2021-22.

    Adding in their nine-month unbeaten run, which spanned back to a first-round DFB-Pokal thrashing of Teutonia Ottensen in mid-August, Alonso's side appeared the favourites for this clash.

    Yet form went out the window as Atalanta – who also eliminated Liverpool in the quarter-finals – inflicted Leverkusen's first defeat across all competitions in 361 days, and Alonso must now rally his troops for the DFB-Pokal final on Saturday.

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