West Ham reach 2023 Europa Conference League final

West Ham have reached a major European final for the first time since 1976 after holding onto a slender aggregate lead against AZ in their Europa Conference League semi-final second leg. Their last was a defeat to Anderlecht in the 1976 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup final.

The Hammers had been poor in the first half of the first leg at the London Stadium last week, before goals from Said Benrahma and Michail Antonio cancelled out a first half strike from Tijani Reijnders.

In the reverse fixture in Alkmaar on Thursday night, David Moyes’ side ceded the lion’s share of possession to AZ and were outshot but arguably had the better chances.

But nerves rose as the minutes ticked by and AZ piled on the pressure, looking for a goal to force extra-time. Travelling fans were whistling for the referee to call time as soon as the clock hit 90.

But Pablo Fornals made certain of a trip to Prague next month with a late strike on the counter. The Spanish midfielder beat a man with a nutmeg, surged towards the goal and unleashed a pinpoint finish across goal and into the bottom corner.

The final will be played on Wednesday 7 June at the Fortuna Arena in Prague, with West Ham to meet Fiorentina following their dramatic semi-final win over Basel. La Viola had trailed 2-1 from the first leg at home, but won 2-1 in the second leg in Switzerland to level it up. Antonin Barak then scored the decisive goal for the Serie A side in the ninth minute of stoppage time at the end of extra-time.

Despite struggling in the Premier League this season by the recent standards they have set for themselves – sixth and seventh place finishes in 2020/21 and 2021/22 respectively – the Hammers have enjoyed another strong European campaign.

Last season, they reached the semi-finals of the Europa League, only losing out to eventual champions Eintracht Frankfurt.

West Ham qualified for the Europa Conference League group stage with a comfortable qualifying win over Viborg from Denmark back in August. They were then the only team to take maximum points from the group stage after getting six from six games against Anderlecht, Silkeborg and FCSB.

Convincingly one-sided knockout wins against AEK Larnaca from Cyprus and Belgian side Gent have since followed, before meeting AZ in the semis and grinding out the two-legged victory.


West Ham have the chance to lift a European trophy

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