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Ukrainian and Western leaders laud US aid package while the Kremlin warns of 'further ruin'

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Ukrainian and Western leaders laud US aid package while the Kremlin warns of 'further ruin'
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Ukrainian and Western leaders laud US aid package while the Kremlin warns of 'further ruin'

2024-04-22 07:02 Last Updated At:07:12

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian and Western leaders on Sunday welcomed a desperately needed aid package passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, as the Kremlin warned that passage of the bill would “further ruin” Ukraine and cause more deaths.

Ukrainian commanders and analysts say the long-awaited $61 billion military aid package — including $13.8 billion for Ukraine to buy weapons — will help slow Russia’s incremental advances in the war's third year — but that more will likely be needed for Kyiv to regain the offensive.

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A woman holds a "Free Azov" sign during a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian and Western leaders on Sunday welcomed a desperately needed aid package passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, as the Kremlin warned that passage of the bill would “further ruin” Ukraine and cause more deaths.

Women hold "Free Azov" signs during a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Women hold "Free Azov" signs during a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People stand in front of a mural symbolising Ukraine's fight against Russia as they attend a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People stand in front of a mural symbolising Ukraine's fight against Russia as they attend a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People attend a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People attend a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People attend a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People attend a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

A man holds a "Free Azov" sign during a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

A man holds a "Free Azov" sign during a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People walk past a memorial wall with photographs of Ukrainian soldiers killed during the war, at Saint Michael cathedral during a rainy morning in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The House swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People walk past a memorial wall with photographs of Ukrainian soldiers killed during the war, at Saint Michael cathedral during a rainy morning in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The House swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

A woman holds a "Free Azov" sign during a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

A woman holds a "Free Azov" sign during a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., talks to reporters just after the House voted to approve $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies, at the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, April 20, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., talks to reporters just after the House voted to approve $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies, at the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, April 20, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Activists supporting Ukraine demonstrate outside the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, April 20, 2024, as the House prepares to vote on approval of $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Activists supporting Ukraine demonstrate outside the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, April 20, 2024, as the House prepares to vote on approval of $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The House swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who had warned that his country would lose the war without U.S. funding, said that he was grateful for U.S. lawmaker' decision.

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Zelenskyy said that the aid package would “send the Kremlin a powerful signal that (Ukraine) will not be the second Afghanistan.”

Zelenskyy said Ukraine would prioritize long-range weapons and air defenses to “break the plans of Russia” in an expected “full-scale offensive," for which Ukrainian forces are preparing.

The aid package will go to the U.S. Senate, which could pass it as soon as Tuesday. U.S. President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.

It still could take weeks for it to reach the front line, where it is desperately needed.

"With this we can stop (Russian troops) and reduce our losses," said infantry soldier Oleksandr. He has been fighting around Avdiivka, the city in the Donetsk region that Ukraine lost to Russia in February after months of intense combat.

Ammunition shortages linked to the aid holdup over the past six months have led Ukrainian military commanders to ration shells, a disadvantage that Russia seized on this year — taking the city of Avdiivka and currently inching towards the town of Chasiv Yar, also in Donetsk.

“The Russians come at us in waves — we become exhausted, we have to leave our positions. This is repeated many times,” Oleksandr told The Associated Press. He didn't give his full name for security reasons. “Not having enough ammunition means we can’t cover the area that is our responsibility to hold when they are assaulting us.”

In Kyiv, many welcomed the U.S. vote as a piece of good news after a tough period that has seen Russia grind out gains along the front line, and step up attacks on Ukraine's energy system and other infrastructure.

“I heard our president officially say that we can lose the war without this help. Thanks very much and yesterday was a great event," said Kateryna Ruda, 43.

Tatyana Ryavchenuk, the wife of a Ukrainian soldier, noted the need for more weapons, lamenting that soldiers “have nothing to protect us."

"They need weapons, they need gear, they need it. We always need help. Because without help, our enemy can advance further and can be in the center of our city,” the 26-year-old said.

Other Western leaders, who have been scrambling to come up with ways to fill the gap left by stalled U.S. military aid, also lauded Congress' decision.

“Ukraine is using the weapons provided by NATO Allies to destroy Russian combat capabilities. This makes us all safer, in Europe & North America,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg posted on X.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that “Ukraine deserves all the support it can get against Russia,” and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called the vote it “a strong signal in these times.”

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk thanked House Speaker Mike Johnson, while also noting the holdup in Congress. “Better late than too late. And I hope it is not too late for Ukraine,” he wrote on X.

In Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Saturday called the approval of aid to Ukraine “expected and predictable.”

The decision “will make the United States of America richer, further ruin Ukraine and result in the deaths of even more Ukrainians, the fault of the Kyiv regime,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

“The new aid package will not save, but, on the contrary, will kill thousands and thousands more people, prolong the conflict, and bring even more grief and devastation,” Leonid Slutsky, head of the Russian State Duma Committee on International Affairs, wrote on Telegram.

Washington-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War said the logistics of getting U.S. assistance to the front line would mean that “Ukrainian forces may suffer additional setbacks" while waiting for it to arrive.

“But they will likely be able to blunt the current Russian offensive assuming the resumed U.S. assistance arrives promptly," it said in its latest assessment of the conflict.

Olexiy Haran, professor of comparative politics at the National University of Kyiv-Mohlya Academy, said that Ukraine was grateful for aid from the U.S. and other Western countries, “but the problem is, frankly speaking, it’s too late and it’s not enough."

“This is the third year of the war and we still don’t have aviation, new aviation. We don’t have enough missiles, so we cannot close the skies. Moreover, recently we didn’t have even artillery shells," he said.

“That’s why the situation was very, very difficult and the Russians used it to start their offensive. So that’s why it is so important for us. And definitely if we’d received it half a year before, we would have saved the lives of many Ukrainians, civilians included.”

Matthew Savill, military sciences director at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said that the aid, while welcome, “can probably only help stabilize the Ukrainian position for this year and begin preparations for operations in 2025.”

“Predictability of funding through 2024 and into 2025 will help the Ukrainians plan the defense this year, especially if European supplies of ammunition also come through, but further planning and funds will be required for 2025, and we have a U.S. election between now and then,” he said.

Responding to a question on NBC about how long Ukraine will still need aid packages, Zelenskyy said "it depends on when we actually get weapons on the ground.”

“The decision to supply F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, we had it a year ago," he said. "We still don’t have the jets in Ukraine.”

In other developments:

— On the ground, Russia's Defense Ministry said Sunday that its troops had taken control of the village of Bohdanivka in the Donetsk region. Ukrainian officials haven't yet commented.

— One person was killed and four others were wounded in Russian shelling in Ukrainsk on Sunday, according to the prosecutor's office in Ukraine's partially occupied Donetsk region. In the Odesa region, four people were wounded in a missile attack, Gov. Oleh Kiper said.

— Two suspects were detained Sunday after two Ukrainian soldiers killed a police officer at a checkpoint in the Vinnytsia region. The soldiers opened fire on Maksym Zaretskyi, 20, early Saturday after he stopped their car for a routine inspection. Zaretskyi’s partner was wounded but survived. The head of Ukraine’s National Police, Ivan Vyhovsky, said the suspects, a father and son aged 52 and 26, were detained in Ukraine’s Odesa region.

Elise Morton reported from London. Vasilisa Stepanenko and Jill Lawless contributed to this report from Kyiv.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

A woman holds a "Free Azov" sign during a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

A woman holds a "Free Azov" sign during a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Women hold "Free Azov" signs during a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Women hold "Free Azov" signs during a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People stand in front of a mural symbolising Ukraine's fight against Russia as they attend a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People stand in front of a mural symbolising Ukraine's fight against Russia as they attend a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People attend a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People attend a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People attend a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People attend a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

A man holds a "Free Azov" sign during a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

A man holds a "Free Azov" sign during a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People walk past a memorial wall with photographs of Ukrainian soldiers killed during the war, at Saint Michael cathedral during a rainy morning in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The House swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People walk past a memorial wall with photographs of Ukrainian soldiers killed during the war, at Saint Michael cathedral during a rainy morning in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The House swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

A woman holds a "Free Azov" sign during a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

A woman holds a "Free Azov" sign during a rally aiming to raise awareness on the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2024. The U.S. House of Representatives swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., talks to reporters just after the House voted to approve $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies, at the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, April 20, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., talks to reporters just after the House voted to approve $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies, at the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, April 20, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Activists supporting Ukraine demonstrate outside the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, April 20, 2024, as the House prepares to vote on approval of $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Activists supporting Ukraine demonstrate outside the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, April 20, 2024, as the House prepares to vote on approval of $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Bayer Leverkusen is two games from European soccer immortality.

The new champion of Germany has two cup finals in four days — starting Wednesday in the Europa League against Atalanta — to complete a previously unthinkable unbeaten season in domestic and continental competition.

On Saturday, Leverkusen will be heavily favored to win the German cup final against a Kaiserslautern team that finished 13th in the second division, not so far from falling into relegation playoffs.

And so the biggest remaining challenge for coach Xabi Alonso’s team is game No. 52 of 53, in Dublin against an Atalanta that is finishing the season strong.

It feels fitting because the Europa League has been a regular drama for Leverkusen.

Three times in six games in the knockout rounds the team was 2-0 down deep into the second half and still behind entering stoppage time: In both round of 16 games against Qarabag and in the semifinals return leg against Roma.

In another streak-saving Europa game, at West Ham in the quarterfinals, Leverkusen was set to advance on aggregate score yet needed an 89th-minute goal by wing-back Jeremie Frimpong to draw 1-1 and stay unbeaten.

“We don’t want to wait until the last seconds of the game,” said Patrick Schick, whose three stoppage-time goals against Qarabag in March were key to advancing 5-4 on aggregate. “We would like to make it clear, really, earlier.”

There have been other stellar teams in European soccer who added the elite Champions League to their domestic league title, unlike Leverkusen playing in the second-tier Europa League.

Still, Manchester United in 1999, Inter Milan in 2010, Barcelona in 2011 and Manchester City last year were wealthy clubs whose success could have been expected. Each started their season with established, star-packed teams led by coaches — Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola — who'd already won multiple domestic and European trophies.

This is Alonso’s first full season coaching at the top level. His team was in relegation trouble last season. There was no superstar transfer signing in the offseason.

“For me it’s very special,” the 42-year-old Alonso said last week. “My first title as a coach was the Bundesliga. It was super, it was very special. But a title in Europe would be wonderful and hopefully we will be able to say that.”

Alonso twice won the Champions League as an elegant midfielder, with Liverpool and then Real Madrid, who will play Borussia Dortmund for this season’s Champions League title. That June 1 final at Wembley Stadium is between two teams involved in the failed Super League breakaway in 2021 — Madrid driving it forward, Dortmund declining its invitation.

Bayer Leverkusen and Atalanta were nowhere close to being invited to the breakaway three years ago and today represent soccer projects that won respect from neutral fans across Europe.

Both are based in provincial cities, each with more than 100 years of history, reaching surprise peaks. Before this season, they had only ever won three trophies: Atalanta’s Italian cup in 1963 and Leverkusen’s 1988 UEFA Cup – the forerunner of the Europa League – and Germany cup in 1993.

While Leverkusen once lost a Champions League final, to Madrid in 2002, and Atalanta was minutes away from a semifinals place in 2020, neither has felt entitled to European success.

Their modest stadiums in Leverkusen and Bergamo add up to a combined capacity of about 51,000 that could fit into the Dublin venue, formerly Lansdowne Road, that will host them Wednesday. For a showpiece European final, the official limit is 48,000.

Leverkusen and Atalanta do not figure in UEFA research of the top-50 earnings list of European clubs for total matchday income from ticket and hospitality sales.

Two well-run clubs, relying on smart transfer dealings — albeit underwritten, respectively, by pharmaceutical giant Bayer and Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca — had combined total revenues last year that added up to about the same $500 million as Manchester City’s player wage bill alone.

Yet both Leverkusen and Atalanta, under coach Gian Piero Gasperini since 2016, play easy-on-the-eye soccer in attack and team-first defense.

“They play one against one on the whole pitch,” Schick said of Atalanta. “Wherever you move, you have one defender behind you so they don’t leave you the space to breathe.”

Atalanta has been a refreshing force under Gasperini and already has a place in the Champions League next season. In any normal year they would be popular first-time European title winners.

What Leverkusen has done is not normal, though, and a legend could be just days from being created.

AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

Leverkusen team poses prior to the start of the Europa League second leg semi-final soccer match between Leverkusen and Roma at the BayArena in Leverkusen, Germany, Thursday, May 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Leverkusen team poses prior to the start of the Europa League second leg semi-final soccer match between Leverkusen and Roma at the BayArena in Leverkusen, Germany, Thursday, May 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Atalanta players celebrate at the end of the Europa League semifinal second leg soccer match between Atalanta and Marseille at the Bergamo's stadium, in Bergamo, Italy, Thursday, May 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Atalanta players celebrate at the end of the Europa League semifinal second leg soccer match between Atalanta and Marseille at the Bergamo's stadium, in Bergamo, Italy, Thursday, May 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini attends a Media Open Day at the Giulio Onesti Olympic Center in Rome, Italy, Thursday, May 16, 2024. Atalanta will play Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League soccer final scheduled for May 22, 2024 in Dublin. (Alfredo Falcone/LaPresse via AP)

Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini attends a Media Open Day at the Giulio Onesti Olympic Center in Rome, Italy, Thursday, May 16, 2024. Atalanta will play Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League soccer final scheduled for May 22, 2024 in Dublin. (Alfredo Falcone/LaPresse via AP)

Leverkusen's Josip Stanisic, center, scores a goal during the Europa League second leg semi-final soccer match between Leverkusen and Roma at the BayArena in Leverkusen, Germany, Thursday, May 9, 2024. (Bernd Thissen/dpa via AP)

Leverkusen's Josip Stanisic, center, scores a goal during the Europa League second leg semi-final soccer match between Leverkusen and Roma at the BayArena in Leverkusen, Germany, Thursday, May 9, 2024. (Bernd Thissen/dpa via AP)

Leverkusen's head coach Xabi Alonso celebrates with the trophy as his team won the German Bundesliga, after the German Bundesliga soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and FC Augsburg at the BayArena in Leverkusen, Germany, Saturday, May 18, 2024. Bayer Leverkusen have won the Bundesliga title for the first time. It is the first team in Bundesliga history, that won the championship unbeaten for the whole season. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Leverkusen's head coach Xabi Alonso celebrates with the trophy as his team won the German Bundesliga, after the German Bundesliga soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and FC Augsburg at the BayArena in Leverkusen, Germany, Saturday, May 18, 2024. Bayer Leverkusen have won the Bundesliga title for the first time. It is the first team in Bundesliga history, that won the championship unbeaten for the whole season. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

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