West Ham face Fiorentina in Europa Conference League final
West Ham United’s English midfielder Declan Rice (R) and AZ Alkmaar’s Dutch defender Jordy Clasie (C) embrace on the pitch after the UEFA Europa Conference League semi-final first leg football match between West Ham United and AZ Alkmaar on 11 May, 2023. AFP
London: West Ham will face Fiorentina in their first European final for 47 years after Thursday’s 1-0 victory at AZ Alkmaar clinched a 3-1 aggregate success in the Europa Conference League semi-finals.
Pablo Fornals scored West Ham’s winner in the final moments of the tense second leg to set up a clash with Fiorentina in the final in Prague on 7 June.
The Hammers last reached a major European final in 1976 when they were beaten by Anderlecht in the Cup Winners Cup.
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In the other semi-final second leg, Antonin Barak’s last-gasp goal sealed Fiorentina’s dramatic 3-1 win at FC Basel.
The Serie A club are the first team to reach the final of four different major European competitions.
Vincenzo Italiano’s side trailed 2-1 after the semi-final first leg, but they turned the tie around in Switzerland.
Nicolas Gonzalez’s double and Barak’s goal in the final seconds of stoppage-time in extra-time clinched a 4-3 aggregate triumph.
West Ham have not won a major trophy since Trevor Brooking’s goal beat Arsenal in the 1980 FA Cup final.
They lost the ‘Steven Gerrard’ FA Cup final on penalties after a 3-3 draw against Liverpool in 2006.
“We’re absolutely thrilled. It’s a big achievement for the club, but now it’s about going and winning it. AZ are very good at what they do, but I’m delighted we did it,” West Ham boss David Moyes said.
“We’ve brought in a lot of international players to get better, but we’ve really struggled this season. We had to go back to what gets you wins, and thankfully we did that.”
Last season, West Ham lost 3-1 on aggregate to eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League semi-finals.
Moyes’ side have made amends for that painful near-miss by reaching the final of a competition much-maligned in some quarters, but never again in east London.
West Ham have won 13 of their 14 games in the competition this season and will be favourites whoever they play in the final.
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