West Ham have qualified for their first European final since 1976. After defeating AZ Alkmaar 1-0 on aggregate in the Europa Conference League they are in the finals.
West Ham were knocked out of the Europa League semi-finals little over a year ago following a foolish performance in the second leg against Eintracht Frankfurt. But they proved they had learnt their lesson with a calm effort to see out the tie.
They will meet Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final on Wednesday, June 7 in Prague. West Ham, now 15th in the Premier League, may qualify for the Europa League next season. But for that they need to win their first major prize since 1980.
West Ham’s slim lead from the first leg allowed them to sit back and absorb the Dutch side’s attempts, but AZ did not put the visitors under any strain, with only two shots on target.
Lucas Paqueta struck the post in the first half before replacement Pablo Fornals clinched the Hammers’ place in the final with a stoppage-time winner.
West Ham made History !
West Ham’s first-leg lead allowed them to set up on the counter-attack, while AZ Alkmaar were content to control possession. The Dutch, on the other hand, got passive and fighting to break down the Hammers.
Nerves played a factor in the first 45 minutes, with neither team firing a shot on goal. Jarrod Bowen seized an opportunity from the outside of the box to send it wide, while West Ham hurried their passing in transition, miscuing deliveries for Michail Antonio on more than one occasion.
Paqueta went close for the Hammers, hitting the post with a curling attempt just inside the area, but there were few more bright spots for either side as West Ham held off a late AZ push to go in at the break level.
When play began, the hosts came out with considerably more intensity, forcing Alphonse Areola into two saves to keep out long-range attempts from Sven Mijnans and Pantelis Hatzidiakos. Declan Rice’s long-range effort denied superbly by former Brighton and Arsenal goalkeeper Mat Ryan.
Thilo Kehrer nearly broke the stalemate for AZ when his attempted back ball nearly found its way into the net, but Areola was able to scramble across to clear. Areola then nearly made a costly mistake when attempting to grab a long pass forward. The referee, though, who called it a foul, left him.
Substitute Fornals then used his fresh legs to break through the exhausted AZ defense and score in stoppage time to put the game out of reach and secure West Ham’s place in the final.