West Ham’s players celebrate after the Conference League second leg semifinal soccer match between AZ Alkmaar and West Ham United at the AZ stadium in Alkmaar, Netherlands, Thursday, May 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Pablo Fornals scored a breakaway goal to give the visiting Londoners a 1-0 win at AZ Alkmaar on Thursday to secure a place in the Europa Conference League final on 3-1 aggregate
West Ham United substitute Pablo Fornals scored a breakaway goal in stoppage time as the visitors secured a 1-0 win at AZ Alkmaar on Thursday and a place in the Europa Conference League final after a 3-1 aggregate triumph.
The Hammers are through to a European club competition final for the first time in almost a half century after a 2-1 win in the first leg in London last week and the last-gasp 1-0 triumph in Thursday’s return leg against the Dutch side.
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They will now take on Fiorentina in the final in Prague on June 7.
West Ham, who won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1965 and were runners-up in 1976, put up a dogged showing despite looking tired and spending much of the time chasing their opponents.
But they were stout in defence and already playing for time near the end of the game when Fornals broke away in the fourth minute of stoppage time to win the game.
AZ put up a brave showing but the difference in class between the Premier League outfit and their Dutch opponent was evident as West Ham dealt with everything their hosts threw at them.
There was a scare late in the game when the ball hit the hand of Kurt Zouma after being punched clear by his own goalkeeper Alphonse Areola but despite home protests, no penalty was awarded.
Lucas Paqueta hit the outside of the post in the first half while AZ looked passive in the opening period, despite rowdy support, but came out with vigour after the break, making dangerous runs and delivering inviting balls into the West Ham penalty area but failing to find a decisive touch.
Jarrod Bowen had a breakaway chance in the 74th minute but his pullback in search of a teammate was cleared, while at the other end there was an anxious clearance by Areola after a back pass from Thilo Kehrer looked to be heading into his own net.
Defender Nayef Aguerd then put the ball wide when unmarked at the back post with seven minutes remaining before the last-gasp winner.
”His name is going to be written in West Ham history forever. He’s so happy,” said captain Declan Rice of Fornals’ achievement.
”We’re absolutely thrilled. It’s a big achievement for the club, but now it’s about going and winning it,” added manager David Moyes.
”AZ played a really good style, the Dutch football is really good. They gave us a shock in the first leg, and I knew if I didn’t set us up in a deeper block they could punish us.”
Players’ Family Section Under Threat
West Ham’s win over AZ Alkmaar in the Europa Conference League semifinals was marred by crowd trouble after some Dutch supporters tried to storm into the area reserved for friends and family of the visiting players behind the dugout after the final whistle.
West Ham players including Michail Antonio, Said Benrahma, Aaron Cresswell and Flynn Downes climbed over the advertising boards in a bid to stop the trouble.
West Ham manager David Moyes, whose 87-year-old father David Sr. was at the match, said he had been worried about his family’s safety, although there were no reports of injuries.
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“I can’t explain what happened and why it happened,” Moyes said. “I can 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.”
“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,” Moyes said. “Hopefully they’ll look into it.”
(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – Reuters)