With a 2-1 comeback victory over AZ Alkmaar in the first leg of the Europa Conference League semifinals on Thursday, West Ham United moved within striking distance of their first European final in 47 years.
Early on, David Moyes’ Hammers appeared to be in good shape, but just before halftime, Tijjani Reijnders’ low shot from 20 yards gave Alkmaar the lead.
West Ham made a valiant comeback and displayed composure in the second half. Said Benrahma smoothly converted a penalty that Jarrod Bowen won on 67 minutes, and shortly after that, Michail Antonio was alert to a loose ball in the Alkmaar penalty area and pushed the hosts to a narrow but essential victory.
On May 18, West Ham will travel to Alkmaar for the second leg. The victor will take on Basel or Fiorentina in the championship game.
Hammers in excellent position to make up for past season’s mistakes
This week would have been haunted by the memories of last season’s Europa League quarterfinal loss to eventual champion Frankfurt:
The memories of how quickly Frankfurt scored in the first leg, how quickly Aaron Cresswell was dismissed in the second game, and how frustrated manager David Moyes became that he volleyed a ball at a ball boy. It might have been a happy event.
It turned into a nightmare instead.
So, Thursday’s game against AZ Alkmaar was about making amends and advancing further. Even though the Europa Conference League semifinals are a level lower than the Europa League, West Ham views them all as equal opportunities.
On Thursday at the London Stadium, it appeared as though history might be repeated after 45 minutes.
Before Alkmaar took the lead after 41 minutes, West Ham had the better chances. Moyes exploded on the sidelines. Everything appeared quite familar.
But then something changed. West Ham may have had the bravery to into the game this time since Alkmaar had significantly lower quality than Frankfurt did over a year ago.
Perhaps it was proof that a side was retaliating for a previous event and slaying demons from the past. Whatever it was, West Ham managed to get back and then push forward, giving them a significant advantage going into the second leg in the Netherlands.
The Hammers are within striking distance of the June 7 final in Prague and so near a priceless trophy.
Final game for West Ham should be a memorable one
The London Stadium neighborhood wouldn’t be shocked if Declan Rice left this summer in quest of a bigger stage. It has long been a topic of discussion. Fans are also quite alert.
On one stall at the halfway point on Thursday, a decorated bedsheet served as a sign that read, “DEC PLEASE STAY.”
Once more, Rice provided all the justification West Ham needs to fight to keep him. He stopped counterattacks, brought the team back when they fell behind, and served as a crucial lynchpin.
Rice will be the first West Ham captain to win a European championship since Bobby Moore in 1965 if West Ham eventually hoists the trophy. It would show to be the perfect conclusion. The ideal farewell song. read full article