Europa Conference League

Europa Conference League (113)

Pablo Fornals is desperate for West Ham to turn a miserable season into a memorable one after firing them into a European final.

The Hammers, who have battled relegation all season, will have the chance to lift their first trophy in 43 years when they take on Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final in Prague next month.

Fornals, on as a substitute, sealed a 1-0 win over AZ Alkmaar on the night, and a 3-1 aggregate victory,  with his stoppage time strike.

The Spanish midfielder said: “It’s unbelievable really. I’m really happy for the club because it was a long time without the club being in this situation. I’m really happy to arrive at this moment with this club.

“First of all, thank you for the people who came here, they’re massive everywhere they go! We know already they’ll be in Prague as well because that’s what West Ham supporters do, they’re always behind us. I’m really happy to be with them.

“Of course, just to have the chance to play the final is very good but after this complicated season, if we can bring the cup to east London it will be even better. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”

West Ham’s glory night in the Netherlands was marred by the sight of hooded AZ Alkmaar fans trying to storm into the area containing friends and families of West Ham’s players and staff at full time.

Players including Lucas Paqueta, Michail Antonio, Flynn Downes, Aaron Cresswell, Angello Ogbonna and Said Benrahma, as well as sporting director and former captain Mark Noble, leapt over the advertising hoardings to try to protect their loved ones.

“To be honest, I didn’t see a lot,” added Fornals. “When the referee whistled for the end I just threw myself into the floor and started crying like a kid.

“After that I went inside and tried to keep the guys in because we don’t need that as players. Obviously, I was really concerned about how the family of my team-mates and the West Ham family are.

“Hopefully, everyone is OK and the police can do their job and realise who did it.

“Of course. It’s not great when you are in that beautiful moment and people who aren’t try to use violence against you. We can’t do anything else but try to help the police to realise who did it and pray for the family of my people being healthy.”

David Moyes was concerned for members of his family after AZ Alkmaar fans attempted to attack a section of West Ham’s support following their Europa Conference League semi-final win in the Netherlands.

Pablo Fornals’ injury-time winner prompted a gang of black-shirted, hooded AZ ultras to attempt to storm into the area reserved for friends and family behind the dugout.

Players including Michail Antonio, Said Benrahma, Aaron Cresswell and Flynn Downes climbed over the advertising hoardings in a bid to stop the trouble.

Moyes, who’s 87-year-old father David Snr was at the match, said: “I can’t explain what happened and why it happened.

“I can only only say the players were involved because it was the family section and most of their family and friends were in there. That was probably the reason for the reaction.

“Was I worried? Yeah, my family were there and I had friends in that section. You’re hoping they would try and get themselves away from it.

“I didn’t recognise it because I’d gone onto the pitch. Security wanted to take me inside, but I had to make sure my players weren’t involved.

“What we don’t want to do is in any way blight the night because it certainly wasn’t West Ham supporters looking for trouble. Hopefully they’ll look into it.”

Hammers goalkeeper Alphonse Areola added: “When families or friends are coming to the stadium we don’t want to see things like that. They want to enjoy the event and we want to enjoy it with them as well. We were worried about them.”

During last week’s first leg at the London Stadium, members of AZ players’ families were involved in a confrontation with West Ham fans.

AZ boss Pascal Jansen said: “What happened last week was very unfortunate and then you get the same feeling as what happened tonight.

“I feel a little bit ashamed it happened in our stadium but you have to control your emotions.”

The incident overshadowed West Ham reaching a first European final in 47 years and moving to within one match of a first trophy since the FA Cup in 1980.

A year earlier West Ham had lost the plot at the same stage of the Europa League, crashing out at Eintracht Frankfurt after Cresswell was sent off and Moyes booted a ball at a ball boy.

But this time West Ham held on to their composure, and no ball kids were harmed, as they completed a 3-1 aggregate win and booked a meeting with Fiorentina in Prague on June 7.

It was no mean feat despite the less-than illustrious opposition. AZ have a phenomenal home record in Europe, unbeaten in their previous 25 matches, and had only lost here once to an English team – Moyes’ Everton in 2007 which ended a run of 32 games without defeat.

So West Ham’s 2-1 lead from the first leg always looked slim, and none more so than when AZ dangerman Jesper Karlsson had a shot deflected over with only one minute on the clock.

But West Ham held their nerve were rewarded for a disciplined display when substitute Fornals raced through to score the winner at the death.

“I’m delighted to get to a European final,” added Moyes. “We got close last year. Maybe you shouldn’t be too surprised. We’ve won 13 and drawn one in this competition and now we have one more to go to see if we can win it. We’ve done a really good job in Europe this season and we’re thrilled.

“The dressing room? Raucous is the word I’d use. I don’t want to give too much away but it was great, it’s something that as players and managers you don’t get too often in your career so we’re going to enjoy it.”

David Moyes was concerned for members of his family after AZ Alkmaar fans attempted to attack a section of West Ham’s support following their Europa Conference League semi-final win in the Netherlands.

Pablo Fornals’ injury-time winner prompted a gang of black-shirted, hooded AZ ultras to attempt to storm into the area reserved for friends and family behind the dugout.

Players including Michail Antonio, Said Benrahma, Aaron Cresswell and Flynn Downes climbed over the advertising hoardings in a bid to stop the trouble.

Moyes, who’s 87-year-old father David Snr was at the match, said: “I can’t explain what happened and why it happened.

“I can only only say the players were involved because it was the family section and most of their family and friends were in there. That was probably the reason for the reaction.

“Was I worried? Yeah, my family were there and I had friends in that section. You’re hoping they would try and get themselves away from it.

“I didn’t recognise it because I’d gone onto the pitch. Security wanted to take me inside, but I had to make sure my players weren’t involved.

“What we don’t want to do is in any way blight the night because it certainly wasn’t West Ham supporters looking for trouble. Hopefully they’ll look into it.”

Hammers goalkeeper Alphonse Areola added: “When families or friends are coming to the stadium we don’t want to see things like that. They want to enjoy the event and we want to enjoy it with them as well. We were worried about them.”

During last week’s first leg at the London Stadium, members of AZ players’ families were involved in a confrontation with West Ham fans.

AZ boss Pascal Jansen said: “What happened last week was very unfortunate and then you get the same feeling as what happened tonight.

“I feel a little bit ashamed it happened in our stadium but you have to control your emotions.”

The incident overshadowed West Ham reaching a first European final in 47 years and moving to within one match of a first trophy since the FA Cup in 1980.

A year earlier West Ham had lost the plot at the same stage of the Europa League, crashing out at Eintracht Frankfurt after Cresswell was sent off and Moyes booted a ball at a ball boy.

But this time West Ham held on to their composure, and no ball kids were harmed, as they completed a 3-1 aggregate win and booked a meeting with Fiorentina in Prague on June 7.

It was no mean feat despite the less-than illustrious opposition. AZ have a phenomenal home record in Europe, unbeaten in their previous 25 matches, and had only lost here once to an English team – Moyes’ Everton in 2007 which ended a run of 32 games without defeat.

So West Ham’s 2-1 lead from the first leg always looked slim, and none more so than when AZ dangerman Jesper Karlsson had a shot deflected over with only one minute on the clock.

But West Ham held their nerve were rewarded for a disciplined display when substitute Fornals raced through to score the winner at the death.

“I’m delighted to get to a European final,” added Moyes. “We got close last year. Maybe you shouldn’t be too surprised. We’ve won 13 and drawn one in this competition and now we have one more to go to see if we can win it. We’ve done a really good job in Europe this season and we’re thrilled.

“The dressing room? Raucous is the word I’d use. I don’t want to give too much away but it was great, it’s something that as players and managers you don’t get too often in your career so we’re going to enjoy it.”

West Ham are one game from ending their 43-year trophy drought after they kept their heads to sink AZ Alkmaar 1-0 and reach the final of the Europa Conference League.

Substitute Pablo Fornals scored a stoppage-time winner to prompt ugly scenes at the final whistle, with West Ham players and coaching staff trying to stop AZ ultras from attacking away fans behind the dug-out.

It was a shameful end to a battling performance from the Hammers as they secured a 3-1 victory on aggregate.

A year earlier West Ham had lost the plot at the same stage of the Europa League, crashing out at Eintracht Frankfurt after Aaron Cresswell was sent off and David Moyes booted a ball at a ball boy.

But this time West Ham held on to their composure, and no ball kids were harmed, as they booked a first European final in 47 years, and the chance of some first silverware since the 1980 FA Cup, in Prague on June 7.

It was no mean feat despite the less-than illustrious opposition. AZ have a phenomenal home record in Europe, unbeaten in their previous 25 matches, and had only lost here once to an English team – Moyes’ Everton in 2007 which ended a run of 32 games without defeat.

Since then Manchester United, Arsenal, Valencia and Lazio have all tried, and failed, to win at the AFAS stadium, a ground that is such a fortress it even has a moat surrounding it.

So West Ham’s 2-1 lead from the first leg always looked slim, and none more so than when AZ dangerman Jesper Karlsson had a shot deflected over with only one minute on the clock.

But West Ham, cheered on in the away end by former striker Andy Carroll held their nerve and allowed AZ to keep possession and play in front of them, while looking to pounce on the break.

Thilo Kehrer began to get some joy down the right and when his cross was headed away from Michail Antonio it fell to Jarrod Bowen, who lashed his shot wide.

Lucas Paqueta twice tried to send Antonio through on goal, the first after a 40-yard run up the pitch, but twice the pass was too long.

Yet the Brazilian was slowly exerting his influence on the match and when he collected the ball from Antonio, he cut inside on his left foot and his curling shot from the edge of the box just clipped the far post.

West Ham hearts were in mouths before the interval, however, when a low cross from Milos Kerkez rolled menacingly across the six-yard box before it was half-cleared and the follow-up from Vangelis Pavlidis was deflected wide.

Hammers goalkeeper Alphonse Areola had little to do in the first half, but he was tested early in the second and held a drive from Sven Mijnans before tipping a Pavlidis shot over the top and saving from Pantelis Hatzidiakos.

Likewise home keeper Mathew Ryan, who then had to paw away a 20-yard effort from Declan Rice.

West Ham had fallen foul of some of Europe’s dark arts last season, but here they were holding their own; Tomas Soucek and Kehrer were both booked for timewasting at throw-ins.

Nayef Aguerd sliced a chance to put the tie to bed wide as the clock ticked down, but in stoppage time Fornals raced clear of a tiring AZ defence and slotted the ball past Ryan in front of the delirious 900-odd travelling supporters.

Moyes, Rice and others then had to leap over advertising hoardings and try to prevent the hooligans from attacking the West Ham friends and family area behind the dug-out.

It was not a nice ending, but when the dust settles Rice, destined to leave West Ham this summer, will know he now has the chance to join Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds as the only captains to lift a major trophy for the club, and what a parting gift that would be.

Goals from Said Benrahma and Michail Antonio kept West Ham’s dreams of a first trophy in 43 years alive after a 2-1 victory in the first leg of the Europa Conference League semi-final against AZ Alkmaar.

The Hammers were big favourites to beat the Dutch dark horses, but were put on the back foot at a sold-out London Stadium when goalkeeper Alphonse Areola gifted AZ the lead before half-time.

But another goalkeeping error from Australia international Mathew Ryan gave West Ham a penalty which Benrahma converted.

Antonio then prodded home from a corner after a goalmouth scramble to give the Hammers a crucial lead going into next Thursday’s second leg in the Netherlands.

There was a sense of optimism before kick-off with West Ham almost safe from relegation and captain Declan Rice confidently predicted ‘the good times are back on their way’ in his programme notes, even though it remains unlikely he will be here to enjoy them for much longer.

Still, a European final in Prague on June 7, against Fiorentina or Basel, would be a fitting way for the England midfielder to sign off before a big-money summer move.

But AZ, a progressive club based around the moneyball model also used by Brentford, are a slick, attacking young side who had beaten Lazio and Anderlecht to reach the last four.

They were watched from the directors’ box by Billy Beane, the real-life inspiration for Brad Pitt’s character in the baseball movie Moneyball, who owns a stake in them.

Ominously, AZ goalkeeper Ryan was unbeaten in his five previous matches against West Ham during his spell at Brighton, and he set about trying to maintain that record when he got down well to tip Benrahma’s curler behind.

West Ham were given a painful lesson in last season’s Europa League semi-final, conceding in the first minute of the first leg and losing Aaron Cresswell to a red card in the second as they crashed out to Eintracht Frankfurt.

They got an early warning when former Southampton midfielder Jordy Clasie fizzed a low shot just past the post.

And history repeated itself when West Ham allowed AZ to take a shock lead five minutes before half-time, Areola letting Tijjani Reijnders’ shot in at his near post.

It was not a gaffe on the scale of the one West Ham benefitted from in their win over Manchester United on Sunday, when David De Gea let Benrahma’s tame shot roll in, but it was still not a good look for the Hammers’ cup keeper.

West Ham protested that there had been a foul on Lucas Paqueta in the build-up – Turkish referee Halil Umut Meler even put the whistle to his lips before opting to play on – but the goal stood.

However, the hosts were thrown a lifeline in the 67th minute when Ryan missed his punch at a corner and caught Jarrod Bowen square in the face.

Meler, who had infuriated the home crowd all match, pointed to the penalty spot and Benrahma stepped up to bury a perfect spot-kick just inside the post.

Eight minutes later West Ham went ahead, Antonio stabbing home the rebound after Nayef Aguerd’s header was cleared off the line to give them a slim advantage and, if they improve next week, every chance of moving a step closer to a first European trophy since 1965.

Goals from Said Benrahma and Michail Antonio kept West Ham’s dreams of a first trophy in 43 years alive after a 2-1 victory in the first leg of the Europa Conference League semi-final against AZ Alkmaar.

The Hammers were big favourites to beat the Dutch dark horses, but were put on the back foot at a sold-out London Stadium when goalkeeper Alphonse Areola gifted AZ the lead before half-time.

But another goalkeeping error from Australia international Mathew Ryan gave West Ham a penalty which Benrahma converted.

Antonio then prodded home from a corner after a goalmouth scramble to give the Hammers a crucial lead going into next Thursday’s second leg in the Netherlands.

There was a sense of optimism before kick-off with West Ham almost safe from relegation and captain Declan Rice confidently predicted ‘the good times are back on their way’ in his programme notes, even though it remains unlikely he will be here to enjoy them for much longer.

Still, a European final in Prague on June 7, against Fiorentina or Basel, would be a fitting way for the England midfielder to sign off before a big-money summer move.

But AZ, a progressive club based around the moneyball model also used by Brentford, are a slick, attacking young side who had beaten Lazio and Anderlecht to reach the last four.

They were watched from the directors’ box by Billy Beane, the real-life inspiration for Brad Pitt’s character in the baseball movie Moneyball, who owns a stake in them.

Ominously, AZ goalkeeper Ryan was unbeaten in his five previous matches against West Ham during his spell at Brighton, and he set about trying to maintain that record when he got down well to tip Benrahma’s curler behind.

West Ham were given a painful lesson in last season’s Europa League semi-final, conceding in the first minute of the first leg and losing Aaron Cresswell to a red card in the second as they crashed out to Eintracht Frankfurt.

They got an early warning when former Southampton midfielder Jordy Clasie fizzed a low shot just past the post.

And history repeated itself when West Ham allowed AZ to take a shock lead five minutes before half-time, Areola letting Tijjani Reijnders’ shot in at his near post.

It was not a gaffe on the scale of the one West Ham benefitted from in their win over Manchester United on Sunday, when David De Gea let Benrahma’s tame shot roll in, but it was still not a good look for the Hammers’ cup keeper.

West Ham protested that there had been a foul on Lucas Paqueta in the build-up – Turkish referee Halil Umut Meler even put the whistle to his lips before opting to play on – but the goal stood.

However, the hosts were thrown a lifeline in the 67th minute when Ryan missed his punch at a corner and caught Jarrod Bowen square in the face.

Meler, who had infuriated the home crowd all match, pointed to the penalty spot and Benrahma stepped up to bury a perfect spot-kick just inside the post.

Eight minutes later West Ham went ahead, Antonio stabbing home the rebound after Nayef Aguerd’s header was cleared off the line to give them a slim advantage and, if they improve next week, every chance of moving a step closer to a first European trophy since 1965.

Jarrod Bowen knows exactly what winning a trophy would mean to West Ham fans – he only has to ask his partner’s father Danny Dyer.

The Hammers will bid to reach a first European final in 47 years when they take on Dutch side AZ Alkmaar in the Europa Conference League semi-final.

Former Eastenders hardman Dyer is a huge West Ham supporter and Bowen revealed he has been left in little doubt about the significance of Thursday night’s first leg at the London Stadium.

Bowen, who is expecting twins with Dyer’s daughter Dani, said: “It’s massive.

“I’ve only been here three years but I feel a massive part of this club. I feel like a fan, almost, as well. I know how much it means to the fans and I’m one of them who wants to give them that success.

“The missus’ old man is obviously on me every week. But for everyone, the whole club, it’s not been a great season but staying in the Premier League is the main aim and bringing the trophy home for the fans would be a good end to a bad season.”

Europe has been the one bright spot in a tough season for West Ham, although they took a huge step towards securing their Premier League safety with a 1-0 win over Manchester United on Sunday.

“That result was obviously massive for this club so going into tomorrow night it’s given us a lot of confidence,” added winger Bowen.

 

“We can use it as a kind of springboard to help us. We know it’s going to be a difficult game.

“They’re a really good side and it’s a European semi-final. We’re at home first so we can use that to our advantage with our fans and the atmosphere I know they’re going to create.”

Last season, West Ham were on their last legs when they reached the Europa League semi-finals, losing over two legs to eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt.

This term, manager David Moyes feels they may just be peaking at the right time.

“I remember Sir Alex Ferguson always used to talk about that this was the time of year where you had to be at your best,” said the former Manchester United and Everton boss.

“It tends to be now that games are really important; semi-finals, finals, league games you have to win. Having your best form at this time of the season is always important.

“I do believe that we’re playing some of our best stuff just now. I think we can still get much better and I’m hoping we’re going to show that in the coming games.”

Harry Kane has insisted Tottenham should view the Europa Conference League as a chance to end the club’s trophy drought if they are involved in the competition next season.

Spurs remain in the hunt for European football after Saturday’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace where Kane’s first-half header helped move them up to sixth in the Premier League.

Brighton, in seventh, are still favourites for Europa League qualification given they have three games in hand and are only two points off Tottenham.

A top-seven finish and therefore at least a Europa Conference League spot could be guaranteed for Spurs with victory at eighth-placed Aston Villa on Saturday but some fans have recently debated whether Europe’s third-tier tournament would be an inconvenience.

The England captain disagrees and despite uncertainty over his future, Tottenham have no intention of selling the forward this summer, which means he could play in the Europa Conference League next season.

“We’ve got three games left, a big game against Villa next week away,” Kane said.

“Obviously Brighton have a few games in hand on us. If we can come away from this season with European football, that’s a small prize at the end of a tough season.

“We’ll be fighting for that and fighting in the three games to try to pick up three wins.

“Ultimately I like to play football games no matter what competition it is. That’s what you deserve from where you finish in the season.

“You can’t disrespect any competition that you play in. It’s one of those, if you end up in the Conference League and win it, it’s worth it. If you don’t, then people probably look at it as an inconvenience.

“But when you’ve been at a club where we haven’t won a trophy for 15 years, if we do end up in it, it could be an opportunity to try and put that to bed.”

Kane’s 209th Premier League goal settled a drab contest with Palace after Tottenham kept their first top-flight clean sheet since February 26.

Ryan Mason, in only his third match since replacing Cristian Stellini as acting head coach, tweaked the 3-4-3 tactics regularly used under Antonio Conte with Spurs playing with a back four out of possession.

Former Tottenham midfielder Mason immediately put his name forward as a candidate to permanently replace Conte last month but Kane preferred to stay out of the managerial talk.

“We’re all behind him. We know the club is in a situation where I spoke about getting some of the values back. I feel like Ryan brings all those attributes,” Kane added.

“He’s been here through the academy, he knows what it’s like as a fan, he knows what it’s like to play here. With that attitude and that desire, he brings a great enthusiasm to the coaching role here.

“Ultimately it will be down to the chairman (Daniel Levy) and the club what they decide, but for these three games, we’re fully behind him to try to improve and to try to win and see what happens.

“If I end up speaking with the chairman towards the end of the season, then I’m sure he’ll fill me in on what he’s thinking.

“But ultimately we’ve got three more games, we don’t want to look too far ahead and get too carried away.

“The club will make the best decision for everyone, for the players, the fans, for the club in general, so we’ll just have to wait and see what that is.”

Meanwhile, Spurs midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg has acknowledged the club must do everything to keep Kane, who enters the final year of his contract this summer.

Hojbjerg said: “Harry is one of those players who will be in the (record) books, in the history for a very long time.

“It is important also for Harry to understand he has a big responsibility and also I think the club has a responsibility to make sure the scenario for him is the best possible.”

David Moyes and Declan Rice revelled in repaying West Ham supporters back after a difficult season as the Hammers reached the Europa Conference League last four on Thursday.

A Michail Antonio brace, along with goals for Lucas Paqueta and Rice, sent West Ham through with a 4-1 home victory and a 5-2 aggregate triumph over Gent.

That saw Moyes' side reach their second continental semi-final in as many years, having made it to the Europa League last four a season ago.

With West Ham battling relegation in the Premier League, sitting just four points above the bottom three, Moyes hailed the Hammers' achievements in balancing European football and domestic challenges.

He told BT Sport: "It is a brilliant achievement. To do it two years in a row is special, it really is. It doesn't happen very often so we'll look forward to the semi-finals.

"It's been tough for the fans [this year]. We've had so many positive things coming from European football that it has built a great relationship with the players.

"It was really important we got to the semi-finals. Gent caused us problems and we had to work hard for the win."

Rice's 58th-minute strike put the Hammers in full control of the tie after Paqueta and Antonio's first goal had put West Ham into the lead following Hugo Cuypers' first-half opener.

The West Ham captain echoed his manager's sentiment, relishing the impact the result could have on the fans after a difficult season.

Rice told BT Sport: "I can't put it into words. Another semi-final back-to-back. The place was rocking and you felt it. To score and the lads play really well, ah, it was a top night for the club.

"In the last couple of games we've not got off to the best start, waiting for teams to score to react. But when we got that goal we felt the buzz and the energy. In the second half it could have been six or seven."

As for his goal, driving over the halfway line before drilling into the bottom-left corner, Rice sees it as one of his best finishes for the club.

"When I pick the ball up in those positions and have space to drive into I feel good," the England midfielder added. "That's when I feel I'm at my best. It doesn't happen all the time.

"It definitely goes down as one of my best goals for West Ham. I didn't even know how to celebrate. I was just so happy to score, let alone it be like that, so it was special."

"There's obviously not been a lot for west ham fans to cheer for this season but they will be happy tonight and to put a smile on their faces is unbelievable."

West Ham will face AZ Alkmaar in the semi-finals after the Eredivisie side won on penalties against Anderlecht, who squandered a 2-0 lead from the first leg.

"AZ Alkmaar have had good momentum all year and have a good young team with lots of new talent," Moyes added. 

"It will be a really hard game. For them to come from 2-0 down and get through is a great achievement."

West Ham will face Gent in the Europa Conference League quarter-finals as they bid to reach a European semi-final for the second straight year.

The Hammers made it to the Europa League final four last season, suffering a heartbreaking 3-1 aggregate defeat to eventual champions Eintracht Frankfurt.

But they thumped Cypriot side AEK Larnaca 4-0 at home on Thursday to seal a 6-0 aggregate win, before being matched with Belgian club Gent in Friday's quarter-final draw.

If they can get past Gent, David Moyes' men will face either AZ or Anderlecht to reach the final on June 7 after those two were pitted against each other in the last eight.

AZ have avoided defeat in seven of their last eight European clashes with Belgian opponents, with Anderlecht looking to win their first game against the Eredivisie side in three attempts having lost their previous two meetings.

On the other side of the draw, Lech Poznan stand between Fiorentina and their first European semi-final since the 2014-15 season.

History does not bode well for Poznan, with Fiorentina winning four of their six encounters with Polish clubs in European competitions.

The winner of that tie will play either Basel or Nice to see who will take their place in the showpiece match in Prague's Fortuna Arena.

The first legs of the quarter-finals will be played on April 13 before the return fixtures on April 20.

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