Michail Antonio Becomes the First Jamaican to Qualify For a Europa Conference League Final
West Ham United has achieved a remarkable milestone by reaching a major European final for the first time since 1976, after successfully defending a slender aggregate lead against AZ in the second leg of the Europa Conference League semi-finals.
Their previous final appearance resulted in defeat against Anderlecht in the 1976 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup final.
In the first leg at the London Stadium last week, West Ham struggled in the first half but managed to turn the game around with goals from Said Benrahma and Jamaican international Michail Antonio, canceling out Tijani Reijnders’ early strike.
The return leg took place in Alkmaar on Thursday night, where David Moyes’ team allowed AZ to dominate possession and outshoot them. However, West Ham arguably had the better chances throughout the match.
As the minutes ticked by and AZ intensified their pressure in search of a goal to force extra time, nerves began to rise among the West Ham supporters. The traveling fans anxiously urged the referee to blow the final whistle as soon as the clock struck 90.
However, it was Pablo Fornals who sealed West Ham’s trip to Prague next month with a late goal on the counterattack. The Spanish midfielder showcased his skills by nutmegging an opponent, surging towards the goal, and delivering a pinpoint finish across the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner.
The final of the Europa Conference League is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, June 7th, at the Fortuna Arena in Prague. West Ham will face Fiorentina, who secured their spot with a dramatic semi-final victory over Basel. After trailing 2-1 from the first leg at home, Fiorentina won the second leg in Switzerland by the same scoreline, leveling the tie. Antonin Barak then scored the decisive goal for the Serie A side in the ninth minute of stoppage time at the end of extra time.
Despite facing difficulties in the Premier League this season compared to their recent impressive finishes of sixth and seventh place in 2020/21 and 2021/22 respectively, West Ham has enjoyed a strong European campaign. Last season, they reached the semi-finals of the Europa League, narrowly losing to eventual champions Eintracht Frankfurt.
West Ham’s journey in the Europa Conference League began with a comfortable qualifying win over Viborg from Denmark back in August, earning them a spot in the group stage. They emerged as the only team to secure maximum points from the group stage, winning all six matches against Anderlecht, Silkeborg, and FCSB.
Continuing their impressive form, West Ham went on to secure convincing victories against AEK Larnaca from Cyprus and Belgian side Gent in the knockout stages, paving their way to the semi-finals where they eventually triumphed over AZ after a closely contested two-legged encounter.
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