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  • By Alessandro Schiavone

West Ham reach European final for the first time since 1976 after 1-0 win at AZ Alkmaar

By Alessandro Schiacone at AFAS Stadion in Alkmaar


AZ Alkmaar 0-1 West Ham United

Fornals (94')


An ultra defensive West Ham side have passed the Dutch exam with flying colours as Pablo Fornals’ winner deep into injury-time at the AFAS Stadium means they’ll play in a major final for the first time since back in 2006 and in a first European showpiece in 47 years.

 

Substitute Fornals’ goal was not even required as West Ham would have gone through 2-1 on aggregate with a 0-0 draw. But when the Spaniard charged forward undisturbed before picking his spot it sparked wild celebrations. 

 

It required something like a Catenaccio performance to keep the energetic Dutch side at bay throughout the game though with the Hammers having to navigate through some difficult moments. 

 

Yet eventually David Moyes and his men can cling to their dream of ending the club’s 43-year wait for a major trophy all while playing European football for a third season in a row if they defeat Fiorentina in the final in Prague on the 7th of June.

 

An exit at the hands of Holland’s fourth-best side would have had all the hallmarks of a sporting tragedy. 

 

This was always going to be a tough game against a side that knocked out Anderlecht and Lazio in the previous and Moyes's men had to dig deep.


Despite being outpassed, West Ham were the better side in the opening stages and could have got their noses in front on multiple occasions. Bowen mishit his effort after 7 minutes, Paqueta struck the outside of the far post while Benrahma blazed his effort over.

 

Despite their best endeavours and having most of the ball, Alkmaar had most of their shots either blocked or deflected as Pascal Jansen’s enterprising side lacked the quality to trouble World Cup semi-finalist Nayef Aguerd, his defensive partner Zouma, Aaron Cresswell and Thilo Kehrer who defended like a unit with the help of Paquetà, Rice and Soucek.

 

The narrative changed after half-time when AZ Alkmaar turned up the heat. Their fans, in the stands, did the rest as they proudly sang their hearts out in an attempt to make up their players’ technical deficit with their outrageous support.  


West Ham had no choice but to sit deep while looking to deliver the knockout punch on the break. A plan, David Moyes’, which the players carried out to the letter. 

 

They survived a flurry of activity but Alkmaar simply struggled to find the breakthrough.

 

Sven Mijnans saw his low effort comfortably saved by Areola before a number of goal-bound efforts were either intercepted or thwarted by West Ham’s players who were pretty much all behind the ball.


Like so often, things had to get worse before they got better. And they found some respite on the counter-attack late on as Alkmaar when running out of steam. Bowen, Benrahma and company broke quickly and made the most of the tiring hosts’ legs.


Aguerd could have put the final nail in Alkmaar's coffin seven minutes from time but dragged a shot on the wrong side of Ryan’s post .

 

But this was always going to be West Ham’s night. 

 

And in the end they have a 94th winner to go with a flawless defensive masterpiece. 

 

Fornals slotted a perfect finish to take AZ Alkmaar down. 

 

A first European final since 1976 in Prague awaits. 

 

Win that one and it will go down as one of the club’s most astonishing campaigns. 

 

 

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