Five reasons to believe : Fans have good cause to think West Ham can still prevail in Frankfurt
West Ham’s bid for Europa League glory took a big hit on Thursday.
Stunned by a headed opener from Ansgar Knauff after just 49 seconds, the Hammers did really well to recover their composure and force a 21st minute equaliser from Michail Antonio.
Yet it was Eintracht Frankfurt who stole the advantage on 54 minutes when a slick moved ended with Daichi Kamada poking home a rebound after Alphonse Areola had parried a shot from Djibril Sow.
But let’s be clear: nobody should discount their chances of turning things around in the return in Germany next week and clawing back that 2-1 deficit.
David Moyes’ men were undone by some impressive football from Eintracht, but created enough chances of their own to suggest they have it in their armoury to emulate their improved second leg performances of previous rounds.
On the back of the matchday programme is the slogan ‘Never Give Up.’ It will be the watchword for next week at the Deutsche Bank Park.
Here we give five reasons to believe that the final in Seville against RB Leipzig or Glasgow Rangers is still very much on the agenda for the Irons.
Those near misses
The Hammers may have been beaten by a slightly better side on the night but still might have won it with a bit more luck. They might certainly have got a draw had that amazing late overhead kick from Jarrod Bowen – beautifully executed – not come back off the underside of the bar. In addition to that attempt, Bowen struck a post in the first half and Said Benrahma came off the bench to clip a beautiful curling shot off an upright. Even though not at their best, the Hammers still created big chances and on another night, those go in.
The form of Bowen and the aerial threat at set pieces
The Frankfurt defence struggled to cope with one of the Hammers’ really big success stories of the season. Striker Jarrod Bowen has been a revelation and his change of pace and eye for a chance always carries a threat. Then there is the danger United can pose from corners and free-kicks. The goal scored by Antonio owed much to the ability of a returning Kurt Zouma to get the better of the visitors’ rearguard. Tomas Soucek seems to score, or go close to scoring, with headers in virtually every game. The dead ball chips from Manuel Lanzini and Benrahma could unlock the Germans. The industry of the increasingly brilliant Declan Rice and the vastly-improved Pablo Fornals offers further rays of hope.
The memory of Lyon
In the quarter-finals, the Hammers had to pick themselves up after another disappointing home leg result and managed it style, achieving a superbly-controlled 3-0 victory at Olympique Lyonnais following a 1-1 draw at the London Stadium. In many ways, the home leg galvanised Moyes’ men because of the spirit they had to show after losing Aaron Cresswell to a red card before half time. The resounding win in southern France epitomised the grit and determination within the ranks these days. Against Seville in the previous round too, the Irons upped their game in the return leg – albeit at home on that occasion.
A sense of destiny because of the opposition
Trevor Brooking was on the pitch at half-time to recall his memories of one of the most pulsating nights in the West Ham canon of great nights under the Upon Park lights – the epic 3-1 triumph in the 1976 Cup Winners Cup semi-final – the last time they advanced so far in a major European competition. It is an amazing coincidence that the team they defeated then was Eintracht Frankfurt – the very same club that now stands in the way of only a third Euro final ever. Sometimes it feels just written in the stars and there is no harm in players and fans alike embracing that omen for all it’s worth. They might also think of the one time they prevailed to lift European silverware in 1965. That was the year Bobby Moore and co lifted the Cup Winners Cup at Wembley against another German side – TSV Munich 1860.
The memory of Seville
League form has suffered of late – and that is probably a sign of how single-minded the team has become on seeing their Europea League mission through to the very end. You can see how much it means to the players and the fans. They have embraced the competition every step of the way. They won’t want it to end now – not with a glorious ending so tantalisingly close. They have already played at the Estadion Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan, of course, and you can be sure the familiarity of that venue gives them an added feeling that they can make that a home from home on May 18, if they get there. Fulham fans will relate to that. In 2010, they knocked out the hosts for that final, Hamburg, in a memorable semi-final.
It’s all to play for. Don’t bet against the Irons.