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West Ham's European Adventure

This time 2 years ago, West Ham had just come off the back of one of their worst seasons in recent years. David Moyes’ side had only just scraped to safety in the Premier League, thanks to their impressive form during Project Restart. Optimism amongst the fans was rock bottom, with many tipping the club to face the dreaded drop down to the Championship in the 2020/21 season.

It would turn out quite the opposite for the Hammers, as they would defy expectations and end the season in 6th place in the Premier League, meaning that they would be playing European football in the 2021/22 season. West Ham were drawn into Group H for their Europa League campaign, alongside Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb, Austrian side Rapid Wien and Genk from Belgium. This would prove to be a simple task for the Hammers, winning 4, drawing 1 and losing 1, which saw them top the group. This meant that they were given a bye through to the round of 16.

On the 25th of February, it was announced that West Ham’s opposition for this tie was Spanish side Sevilla, who have won the competition on 6 occasions. The first leg was played away at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium on the 10th of March. Roughly 10,000 West Ham fans made the trip to Spain to support the side, despite only 3000 away fans allowed in the stadium. It was a disappointing match for David Moyes and his side, as they fell to a 1-0 defeat, with Munir providing the only goal of the game in the 60th minute. Despite this, there was still hope around the club, as the two sides would travel to a packed out London Stadium for the second leg.

West Ham went on to win the second leg in dramatic fashion. Tomas Soucek headed in Michail Antonio’s cross late in the first half to level the game on aggregate, but it was Ukraine international Andriy Yarmolenko who provided the goal in the second half of extra time that would fire his side past Sevilla and into the quarter final of the Europa League, against French giants Lyon.

The London Stadium hosted the first leg this time around. The game was not short of controversy, as referee Felix Zwayer gave Aaron Cresswell a straight red card for a soft challenge on striker Moussa Dembélé just before half time. The hosts didn’t let this dampen their spirits however, as shortly after half time, Jarrod Bowen would latch onto a loose ball and poke it into the back of the net giving West Ham the lead. Tottenham loanee Tanguy Ndombele would equalise for Lyon 14 minutes later, and the game would finish 1-1 with the tie all to play for in the second leg.

A week later at the Groupama Stadium, West Ham shocked everyone in the second leg. The East London side made the game look easy, as they won the game 3-0, with Craig Dawson, Declan Rice and Jarrod Bowen scoring the goals. A semi final was set up with German side Eintracht Frankfurt, who had spectacularly beat Barcelona at the Nou Camp in the previous round.

Excitement amongst the fan base was through the roof ahead of the first leg at home, with the prospect of a European final on the cards. Hopes were killed instantly, as Frankfurt wingback Ansgar Knauff headed past Alphonse Areola less than a minute into the game. Hammers forward Michail Antonio reignited the atmosphere in the London Stadium as he tapped in Kurt Zouma’s header across goal, bringing West Ham level. Frankfurt retook the lead just after half time, as Kamada finished into an empty net following a save from Areola. Bowen came closest for West Ham in the second half, with his acrobatic effort cannoning off the crossbar in the dying moments of the game, but they would fall to a 2-1 defeat, and had to travel to Frankfurt for the second leg.

The game didn’t go how the Hammers would have wanted it to. Aaron Cresswell was once again sent off early in the game, making it an impossible challenge for West Ham. Rafael Borre would score the only goal of the game as Frankfurt booked their place in the final, which they eventually went on to win against Rangers.

West Ham finished 7th in the Premier League last season. This means that they are set to go again in Europe this season in new competition, the Europa Conference League. David Moyes and his side will have to play a play off game to qualify for the group stages in September. They will be without captain Declan Rice after his comments post game in Frankfurt. West Ham have been drawn against either Viborg from Denmark, or B36 Torshavn from the Faroe Islands for their play off game. These two sides have to play a 2 legged tie to determine who will face West Ham on the 18th and 25th of August with a chance to reach the group stages of the competition. Viborg currently lead 3-0 on aggregate, with the second leg to be played next Tuesday.

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