West Ham 2-1 AZ Alkmaar: Michail Antonio and Said Benrahma combine to give Hammers the advantage in Europa Conference League semi-final tie… after hosts were trailing to Tijani Reijnders’ low strike
- West Ham came from behind to secure a 2-1 win over AZ Alkmaar on Thursday
- Tijani Reijnders had opened the scoring with a low, driven strike in the first-half
- However, Michail Antonio and Said Benrahma both struck to ensure the victory
The London Stadium was bathed in bubbles at full-time but contrary to the club’s anthem, there was no fading, no dying, no fortune hiding, no looking everywhere for it. West Ham know exactly where it is.
It is in Prague and they are halfway to the Czech capital after last night. The Europa Conference League final awaits if David Moyes’ men can avoid throwing away this lead over AZ Alkmaar in next week’s second leg in the medieval city outside of Amsterdam.
The 60,000 supporters inside the London Stadium tried to inspire West Ham’s 11 players on the pitch, aware of how close this club is to their first trophy since 1980. How close to their first in Europe since 1965. How close to history if only they can navigate their way beyond Alkmaar.
They won the hard way here. Alkmaar took the lead – a poor goal to concede from a defensive and goalkeeping point of view – but West Ham constructed a second-half comeback. Said Benrahma’s penalty and Michail Antonio’s tap-in leaves them in a commanding position and given how it all unfolded, Moyes will take this.
Nobody should make the mistake of thinking that West Ham are as good as through. Alkmaar are a young, talented, feisty team who frustrated their opponents here. There can be no underestimating their potential.
Said Benrahma helped inspire West Ham’s comeback in their semi-final clash with AZ Alkmaar
The Algerian winger scored from the penalty spot to help kick-start the turnaround
Michail Antonio helped secure the win shortly after, when he bundled the ball home at a corner
West Ham’s analysts, having done their homework on Alkmaar, had spent this week warning against the notion that this semi-final was a foregone conclusion. With an average age of 24, the Dutch visitors were the Conference League’s youngest team this season. Experienced? No. Fearless? Definitely, and they held Ajax to a 0-0 draw at the Johan Cruyff Arena only days ago.
Alkmaar manager Pascal Jansen quoted Johan Cruyff before kick-off by saying the late, great Dutchman once said he had ‘never seen a bag of money win a game’.
Alkmaar’s wage bill may be a tenth of West Ham’s. The AFAS Stadion’s capacity may be a third of the London Stadium’s. Their most expensive signing last summer may have been Jens Odgaard for £2.6million while West Ham were buying Lucas Paqueta for £51m.
But when it is 11 v 11, anything can happen. West Ham imposed themselves on Alkmaar from the off, Jarrod Bowen’s header from a Declan Rice cross flying over when he was unmarked.
One West Ham supporter had ruined their white bedsheet with red paint. ‘DEC,’ it read, all in capitals, ‘PLEASE STAY.’ Rice is set to leave if a £100m offer is made this summer, meaning this would be his penultimate game at the London Stadium in a claret and blue shirt.
David Moyes’ side will take their 2-1 lead going into next week’s second-leg in Holland
Tijani Reijnders had stunned the hosts with a long range effort in the first-half of the game
Alkmaar were already engaging in early time-wasting, goalkeeper Maty Ryan taking an age at goal-kicks. After 12 minutes, only the fingertips of Ryan denied Benrahma the opener as his 25-yard curler was tipped wide. Super strike. Even better save.
The visitors were struggling to handle Benrahma, who was on the receiving end of crunching challenges from both Alkmaar full backs, Yukinari Sugawara and Mees de Wit, who was booked.
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
WEST HAM (4-2-3-1): Areola 5; Kehrer 6, Zouma 6, Aguerd 6, Cresswell 6; Rice 7, Soucek 5.5; Bowen 6.5, Paqueta 7, Benrahma 7.5 (Fornals 90min); Antonio 7 (Ings 80).
Scorers: Benrahma 67 (pen), Antonio 75.
Manager: David Moyes 6.5.
AZ ALKMAAR (4-2-3-1): Ryan 5.5; Sugawara 6.5, Beukema 6.5, Hatzidiakos 6.5, De Wit 6.5; Clasie 6, Reijnders 7; Odgaard 6 (Lahdo 68, 6), Mijnans 6, Van Brederode 6 (Mihailovic 80); Pavlidis 6.
Scorer: Reijnders 41.
Booked: De Wit, Clasie, Ryan.
Manager: Pascal Jansen 6.5.
Referee: Halil Umut Meler (Turkey) 5.
West Ham had dominated the first 30 minutes but still, Alkmaar tried to kill time and still, the Turkish referee Halil Umut Meler did little to dissuade them. When Odgaard dropped down holding his face, claiming Rice had caught him as he passed, he wasted some more seconds. Replays showed there was no contact.
Meler wasn’t winning any friends in Stratford, particularly not when West Ham felt Paqueta was pushed in the back by Sam Beukema. Sixteen seconds later, Alkmaar scored.
They flew forward at speed and, with Tomas Soucek slow in his closing down, Tijjani Reijnders let loose from 25 yards. It was a nice enough strike, but Alphonse Areola should have stopped it from nestling in his net.
VAR Paolo Valeri looked at the push on Paqueta but decided it was not enough to overturn the opener and so Alkmaar led 1-0 at half time.
The London Stadium’s atmosphere had changed. Whereas it was carnivalesque at the start, it was now tense, though there were ironic cheers in the 58th minute when Meler finally cautioned an Alkmaar player for time-wasting, captain Jordy Clasie the culprit.
In the 65th minute, a major decision went West Ham’s way. Paqueta’s cross led to a Soucek header back into the mix. Bowen jumped for the ball. He headed over but Ryan, stupidly, punched him in the side of the head.
Penalty, said Meler. Ryan protested but it was clear. Benrahma stepped up and coolly buried it into the bottom corner for 1-1.
Ex-Arsenal goalkeeper Mat Ryan fouled Jarrod Bowen in the penalty area in the second half
When he and several of his West Ham team-mates celebrated by the corner flag, Moyes wasn’t having it. He ordered his players to get back into position to restart the game as soon as possible. He wanted a winner in these final 20 minutes. He soon got it, too.
In the 75th minute, a corner was not cleared by Alkmaar. Rice dinked the ball into the six-yard box for Aguerd to head towards goal. It was cleared on the line by Sugawara but only to Antonio, who graciously accepted the tap-in to make it 2-1.
Just in time, too, as West Ham had given the substitution card to the fourth official Maurizio Mariani for Antonio to be replaced by Danny Ings.
From 1-0 down to 2-1, West Ham’s supporters belted out one last rousing rendition of Forever Blowing Bubbles. They are now halfway to Prague.
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