Pablo Fornals Sends West Ham United Into The Europa Conference League Final

The Hammers are heading into their first major European final since 1976
22:04, 18 May 2023

West Ham United have booked their place in their first major European final for 47 years after beating AZ Alkmaar 3-1 on aggregate to reach the Europa Conference League showpiece. Substitute Pablo Fornals was the hero of the hour as his strike in injury time secured his team’s place in next month’s final as they won 1-0 in Alkmaar in the second leg.

The Spaniard sparked wild celebrations in the away end as he slotted into the bottom corner in front of the travelling fans and it is a goal that would’ve meant the world to him after a frustrating year which has seen his game time limited. The midfielder, however, has just scored one of the most memorable goals of the campaign and in West Ham’s vast history. Moments like that are what makes football the beautiful game.

The Hammers will head into next month’s final at the Eden Arena in Prague looking to emulate the club’s past major European triumph, the European Cup Winners’ Cup winners of 1965. Of course back then they were represented by the legendary Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst. It may have been a year before these three icons lifted the Jules Rimet trophy as England won the World Cup, but 1965 was the year where they wrote their own West Ham legends.


The current crop are one game away from joining these icons in club folklore and in a season that has been hugely disappointing domestically, with the Hammers being dragged into a relegation battle in the Premier League for much of the campaign, going on to win this competition would suddenly make this year a memorable one. David Moyes has come under a fair amount of pressure this year due to West Ham’s regression in the league, but in the past 12 months he has guided the club to a Europa League semi-final and now the Europa Conference League final - giving the fans some adventures of a lifetime. And the best of the bunch is yet to come.

As they headed to Alkmaar for the second leg of this tense sem-final tie, everyone affiliated with West Ham were well aware that their hosts boasted the second longest run at home in Europe (25 games) over the past 20 years. The crowd, as well as the  home team’s desire to dominate possession showed you why it was a tough place to go.

AZ Alkmaar started the match by knocking the ball around, seeing plenty of the ball, but this didn’t faze West Ham as they weren’t particularly threatening with it, but Moyes’ side knew they had to be wary.

West Ham’s plan was to play quickly on the break and each time they could spring a counter-attack they looked dangerous, with Said Benrahma, Jarrod Bowen, Lucas Paqueta and Michail Antonio all linking up well with one another. Paqueta had some bright bursting runs forward and the Brazilian saw a shot hit the post in the first half. 

The hosts started to gain momentum just before the break but West Ham showcased some disciplined, resilient defending to maintain their lead in the tie - it also reflected why they haven’t lost a game in this competition all year.

West Ham had to weather the storm for much of the second half but credit has to go to Nayef Aguerd and Kurt Zouma who defended brilliantly, but equally the defensive work from all the players in black was exceptional - they defended like their lives depended on it.

The visitors rose to the challenge of this battle in Alkmaar, determined not to experience European semi-final heartbreak for the second consecutive year. Their game management was superb and to a man, they all executed their jobs brilliantly. Fornals' winner late on ensured the job was done without any hiccups and it capped off a superb away performance from the Hammers.

As the players and fans enjoy their celebrations this evening, their attention will soon turn to the final in a few weeks’ time, where they will hope to join the likes of Moore and Hurst as West Ham icons.

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