Uefa Europa Conference League final: Fiorentina 1 West Ham United 2
It was David Moyes’s moment. Off he went, racing down the touchline, only stopping when he was front of the fans behind the Fiorentina goal. The clock showed 90 minutes and Jarrod Bowen, released by a beautiful pass from Lucas Paquetá, had raced through to put West Ham within touching distance of their first trophy in 43 years.
They were all off the bench when Bowen’s shot slithered past Pietro Terracciano. West Ham had not played well but it made no difference. Moyes had the first trophy of his managerial career. Declan Rice, playing in his final game for the club, had joined Bobby Moore as one of two captains to lead West Ham to a European trophy.
It was the game of Moyes’s life, the 1,097th of his managerial career, and West Ham’s biggest since Steven Gerrard broke their hearts in the 2006 FA Cup final. They are not accustomed to playing in these occasions and the question was how they would handle the emotion of their first European final since 1976, plus whether they would be able to combat Fiorentina’s refined football by striking the right balance between defence and attack.
In the event West Ham were too quick to fall back. Fiorentina started well in a deafening atmosphere – what a shame that Uefa had underestimated its own competition, deeming a ground with a capacity of 19,370 a worthy venue for a final – and were more assured in possession. Sofyan Amrabat gave them control in midfield, constantly dropping deep to receive the ball, and West Ham soon retreated, the tone set by Rice racing back in the third minute to stop Nicolás González from wriggling in from the right.
The concern would grow as Amrabat, Bonaventura and Rolando Mandragora kept the ball away from Rice and Tomas Soucek, moving Fiorentina through the lines, the danger growing when Luka Jovic saw a shot blocked by Nayef Aguerd. Too content to follow the Moyes blueprint of playing for set pieces and counterattacks, West Ham were struggling to bring Lucas Paquetá into the game. The approach felt lumpen, the only threat limited to Rice dragging a shot wide, while Moyes’s were not helped by the refusal of the Spanish referee, Carlos del Cerro Grande, to protect Michail Antonio against some rough challenges from Fiorentina’s centre backs.
There was more aggression to the Italians, more intensity in the individual duels, and West Ham’s complaints with the officiating grew when Benrahma was booked for diving. Everything felt off. West Ham were being out passed and before long some of their fans were disgracing themselves by throwing plastic cups from the stands.
The stupidity was staggering. There was a delay when one missile struck Fiorentina’s captain, Cristiano Biraghi, leaving him with a bloodied head. West Ham’s players appealed for calm, but there will be repercussions.
The behaviour was ridiculous and it threatened to sum West Ham up. They had not turned up on the pitch and they were fortunate not to fall behind when Christian Kouamé headed González’s cross against the post and Jovic turned the rebound in from an offside position.
Fiorentina, who lost the Coppa Italia final to Internazionale, continued to press after replacing Jovic with Arthur Cabral at half-time. West Ham needed more from their wingers, Benrahma and Bowen. There were a few promising runs from the left-back, Emerson Palmieri, but the cohesion was lacking. Gamesmanship took hold; Moyes and Italiano would exchange words on the touchline after Benrahma clashed with González.
It was far from a classic. Fiorentina’s first shot on target came in the 57th minute, Alphonse Areola untroubled by Kouamé's hopeful drive. The encouragement for West Ham was that their centre backs, Kurt Zouma and Aguerd, looked solid. Vladimir Coufal, preferred to Thilo Kehrer at right-back, was standing up to Kouamé.
The mood changed just before the hour. A long throw from Coufal caught Fiorentina napping, Bowen controlled with his chest and Biraghi handled. It required a check of the pitchside monitor, but it was a clear penalty. Biraghi’s arm was not in a natural position and, after some pushing and shoving around the spot, Benrahma stepped up. The Algerian’s nerveless penalty, struck high to the right, had West Ham dreaming.
Could they hold out? There was worry when Zouma limped off for Kehrer just after the goal. Fiorentina responded, Kehrer blocking a shot from Cabral, and were level in the 67th minute. The switch came from Amrabat and González beat Emerson in the air. West Ham were too slow to react. Aguerd and Rice could not get across in time and Bonaventura arrowed a fine shot into the bottom corner.
Fiorentina deserved the equaliser. They pushed again, Mandrogara bending a shot inches wide from the edge of the arwa. West Ham responded by bringing Pablo Fornals on for Benrahama. They continued to go long and Terracciano pushed Soucek’s header away. Extra-time beckoned. Bowen had other ideas. – Guardian