West Ham through to Europa Conference League final

West Ham through to Europa Conference League final
Fornals, Rice

Substitute Pablo Fornals scored a late winner as West Ham United reached their first major European final since 1976 with a 1-0 victory at AZ Alkmaar in their UEFA Europa Conference League semi-final second leg.

David Moyes’ side were excellent throughout, inflicting a first European home defeat in 26 matches on their Dutch opponents for an overall 3-1 aggregate score.

Jesper Karlsson and Jordy Clasie both had efforts blocked in the early stages as Alkmaar, beaten 2-1 in the first leg at London Stadium last week, started on the front foot, but West Ham soon settled into their stride.

Jarrod Bowen dragged the ball wide after Michail Antonio’s effort had been half-cleared, and Lucas Paqueta clipped the upright with a sublime curling shot.

Former Brighton & Hove Albion and Arsenal goalkeeper Mathew Ryan smothered at the feet of Antonio as West Ham continued to press for the opening goal.

See: West Ham report

After the break, West Ham produced a defensive masterclass to keep Alkmaar’s relentless attacks at bay, relying on quick, swift counters to ease the pressure.

Bowen and Antonio both had chances to wrap up the tie, and deep in added time West Ham broke and Fornals kept his cool to despatch a neat finish into the far corner.

The final against Fiorentina will be played in Prague on 7 June, with West Ham looking to go one step further than their last European final in 1975/76, when they lost 4-2 to Anderlecht in the Cup Winners’ Cup.

It mirrors the UEFA Champions League final, where Manchester City will also face Italian opposition in the shape of Internazionale.

If West Ham beat Fiorentina, they would qualify for the UEFA Europa League for the 2023/24 season.

See: How clubs qualify for Europe

Next up is a return to Premier League action on Sunday when the Hammers host Leeds United.

A point would confirm the West Ham’s Premier League status for next season, irrespective of Saturday’s results, while a victory over Leeds could condemn the Whites to relegation.