Ballon D'awson: £2 Million Man Leads West Ham To First European Semi In 46 Years

Craig Dawson, Declan Rice and Jarrod Bowen get on the scoresheet on a historic night for the Hammers
21:57, 14 Apr 2022

West Ham United have reached a major European semi final for the first time in 46 years. A clinical display saw the Hammers clinch a 3-0 victory against Lyon at the Groupama Stadium. The East London club are currently basking in the best period of their recent history, and after this performance you would not bet against them to solidify their success and lift the Europa League trophy.

West Ham nearly made a dream start, when Pablo Fornals got in behind the Lyon defence after sixteen seconds. His finish was tame, and it wouldn’t have counted anyway due to the linesman’s flag. But the Hammers already knew they could catch Lyon out. 

Lyon proved they could pull the same punch on David Moyes’ men, as Karl Toko Ekambi’s ingenuity set him away in the box. The forward beat Alphonse Areola but could not beat the post with his effort, and Romain Faivre’s cross-shot from the rebound went over. Malo Gusto caused havoc in the Hammers’ area with a ball of his own, as Moussa Dembele and Houssem Aouar queued up but were denied by Craig Dawson.

Michail Antonio was at his imperious best up top, causing problems for the Ligue 1 side with his intelligent running and space creation efforts. A downward header from a Fornals cross went begging, but his pinpoint cross for Jarrod Bowen led to West Ham’s best chance thus far. The Leominster man slid in to put the ball narrowly wide, with one of those cruel finishes that looks like a goal to some portions of the ground.

Fornals’ creativity was pivotal for the opener. A sumptuous cross into the near post found set piece expert Craig Dawson on hand to hammer a bullet header home. It was a sequence we have seen frequently from Moyes’ men, but predictable and preventable are two different things. 

The claret and blue clad side did not hang about when it came to pressing home their advantage. Perennial top-six transfer target Declan Rice brought down a defensive header and struck a side-footed shot. His effort took a fortunate bounce off Castello Lukeba before nestling in the net. The Hammers entered half-time firmly in the driving seat.

The ideal end to the first half for West Ham extended into the perfect opening to the second half. Fornals played a smart first-time ball through for Bowen to run on to. The 25-year-old powered through and finished brilliantly to put his side 4-1 up on aggregate. 

Lyon kept plugging away, and Dembele’s clever turn in the box deserved a better finish. The former Celtic man pulled his strike over the bar, but with 25 minutes remaining it was a warning to the away side. West Ham responded through Fornals yet again, as the brilliant Spaniard stretched Jason Denayer into a block at the other end.

It would not be a big West Ham occasion without Mark Noble, and the beloved veteran came on to shore things up with a quarter of an hour remaining. The 34-year-old is in the last of a remarkable 18 seasons at the club, and what a farewell it would be if he was to appear for his club in a European final. 

Tete bungled a finish, but even if he had scored the French side would have been left with a mountain to climb. Peter Bosz’s team were never quite outclassed in the way the scoreline suggested, but they lacked a certain clinical, ruthless edge that West Ham displayed in abundance.

In a beautiful piece of footballing kismet, West Ham now move on to face the same side they faced in their last major European semi final almost five decades ago. Eintracht Frankfurt, 3-1 winners over Barcelona tonight, will await the Hammers in the semi-final. A fun piece of symmetry to be sure, but West Ham and their supporters would happily face anyone if it meant carrying on what has been a wonderful European adventure so far.

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