Conference League
Fiorentina 1-2 West Ham United 

Wednesday, 7th June 2023
by Chris Wilkerson

West Ham United are the 2023 Europa Conference League champions after a Said Benrahma penalty and a stoppage-time Jarrod Bowen winner fired them to a 2-1 victory over Fiorentina in Prague.

European Champions.

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On an emotional night that will live forever in West Ham history, The Hammers gave fans like me their first taste of winning silverware and ended a wait that had stretched back to the 1980 FA Cup win.

There were tears on the pitch, in the stands, on sofas and in pubs as the final whistle went and players, staff and anyone else who could raced across the pitch to celebrate.

For David Moyes, so relentlessly mocked outside of this club, questioned constantly about his timidity and apparent inability to win the big games, it was the reward for years and years of hard work. As he put his winners' medal over his 87-year-old father's head, it turned a moment of vindication into one of pure unbridled joy. If anyone deserved it, David Moyes did.

West Ham's European adventures - extended for one more year after this win - have rekindled the love affair for many fans, and they've inspired more than just ardent Hammers.

When the usual names made these competitions, they were closer to inconvenience than opportunity. But West Ham have embraced them, first the Europa League, now the Europa Conference League. That has rubbed off on clubs like Aston Villa and Brighton, who celebrated European qualification with the joy it deserves, and even the chasing pack, who now all want their days travelling the continent.

And with scenes like they will have witnessed last night, who can blame them? The purest delight was spread across every player's face, and even Carlton Cole had to carefully watch his words when comparing the night to the birth of his son.

It's hard to describe the scenes afterwards. You'll remember them for different reasons to the next person, maybe remember them differently each time your memory takes you back to this peak.

Think of Declan Rice, lifting the trophy as West Ham United captain, following in the footsteps of people like Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds.

Think of Aaron Cresswell, who surely now will never be haunted by that red card against Frankfurt ever again.

Think of Emerson, the first man to win all five UEFA competitions. Think of Zouma, cast aside by Chelsea. There's Lucas Paqueta, Thilo Kehrer, Danny Ings and Nayef Aguerd, who will all see this as justification for the change in their lives they made by joining this club.

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The vindication for Alphonse Areola, the cup goalkeeper who has patiently waited as second choice.

And what about the Czech boys? This was a homecoming that will never be beat.

Then there's Mark Noble, Mr. West Ham, tears in his eyes, one of us, looking more overwhelmed with the reality than any of the players.

And that was all after the game of football that had been played, and won, by West Ham. Should we get to it?

The manager made his two biggest decisions at full back, surprising a few by choosing Coufal and Emerson to guard the flanks after preferring Kehrer and Cresswell in the semi-finals against AZ Alkmaar.

Benrahma also kept his place over Fornals, rewarded for his more consistent form over the season.

Fiorentina's biggest gambles came further up the pitch, choosing Kouame and Jovic over Ikone and Cabral.

La Viola have scored the most goals in the competition this season, and both Cabral and Jovic led the goalscoring charts with seven apiece. Their manager, Vincenzo Italiano, has earned rave reviews for turning this side around and playing exciting football in the process, but gained more attention in the build-up to this game by suggesting his team would use tactical fouls to disrupt their opponents.

His team were certainly true to all of that, looking to attack West Ham and control possession, but also desperate to make the most of any incident, feign injury whenever possible and just generally disrupt the West Ham players with antics.

To their credit, these two years in Europe have helped these players grow and learn. Last year, it might have been an effective ploy, but on this occasion, the Irons seemed to find it more tiresome than frustrating.

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It must be said, West Ham were probably happy to be playing an opponent like Fiorentina. David Moyes's West Ham have seen off many teams by defending with discipline, dominating aerial balls into the box and pouncing on the counter.

Fiorentina themselves were quite happy with the game to play out like that, but whilst the Italians were praised for keeping the ball, attacking goal and passing nicely, it was a 90 minutes where they had little to show for it.

In a tight first half, chances were not just limited, they were basically non-existent.

Sofyan Amrabat was the star, a name many will have remembered from Morocco's heroics at the World Cup. The midfielder was the metronome, constantly on the ball, dictating where and how his side played. And they were clever with that, too, making sure the full backs pushed on and the centre backs played wide of him, ensuring there was always a spare man when Antonio and Paquet?? pushed forwards to press.

What West Ham did well was to stop the service into the front men from there. Jovic was isolated, whilst the full backs rarely, if ever, managed to maraud forward without their respective winger tracking them. This was especially true on the right, where Bowen did an outstanding job defending against Biraghi's constant presence high on the flank.

It was these defensive qualities that were truly on display. Fiorentina looked pretty; West Ham dealt with them. The determination to win this game was underlined by an early challenge by Rice on Gonzalez in the West Ham box. If they were to lose this game, they were going to put everything on the line first. It had been 43 years since this club had won a major trophy, 47 since a major European final. This was a night that could become a legend.

For 45 minutes, the only chance in the game had fallen to Rice, a bobbling clearance rolling out to the captain on the edge of the box, but he could never quite get his body positioned right, and his shot faded wide.

Rice and Soucek were more controlled than they have been as a pair in their time together. Both sat, both remained disciplined and diligent. Any driving inspiration was to come from Paqueta and the attack, although the front three were relatively subdued. Benrahma, in particular, struggled to make an impression on the game, and was booked for an awful dive.

The moment that stood out in the first half was the last thing anyone wanted on occasion like this, with idiotic fans throwing anything from beer glasses to coins at numerous Fiorentina players as they came over to that end to take corners. The assistant referee had fled on numerous occasions, but when Biraghi went over to take another corner, the game was halted and the players nearly taken off after the Fiorentina captain was cut by an object thrown from the stands. Who knows what these morons think they accomplish?

In an otherwise forgettable first half, it was into stoppage time that suddenly the game came to life.

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A cross deep to the far post from Gonzalez on the right was attacked brilliantly at the far post by Kouame, and his header cannoned off the post and back into the middle.

Waiting was Jovic, who did just enough to beat Soucek to the ball and get it over the line with seconds of the half remaining.

It looked a dagger blow to West Ham hopes, but they were reprieved by an offside flag. VAR took a long time to check it, and the striker was offside by about half his body. Tight, but clear. It was Jovic's last action of the season, he was replaced at half time by Cabral.

With that, the sides went in at 0-0. The Hammers fans would be hoping this was just another one of those games where they take 45 minutes to assess their opponents and keep it tight, before improving after instruction at half time.

The Hammers did improve, but this was never a game they were going to take control of. What they needed to be better was their control of the ball, their retention when they did regain possession and the somewhat panicked haste in their play. It was rare that a player seemed to be calm or comfortable to hold the ball, and there was not enough passing to maintain possession. Progress seemed to need to be made instantly, which just led to losing the ball and allowing Fiorentina to start again.

But whilst that anxiety to fly forward at pace and the regularity with which West Ham reverted back into their defensive shell gave an impetus to La Viola, the desire to defend well was what won West Ham this final.

The stories will all say the same: Fiorentina played better, played the football, looked the more likely. But did they? For however many passes more they played than West Ham, how many were between Amrabat and his centre backs? Do you really play well if you create so little in the way of chances. For all their possession, the Italians had the same number of shots on target as West Ham, and Areola didn't make a save until the 58th minute.

West Ham fans have seen this game before. Tentative, anxious, but in more control of themselves than it may look from the outside. Fiorentina had the territory, but they were up against a defence and midfield who are not uncomfortable defending their box again and again. West Ham defended very, very well, and that takes as much skill and ability as attacking.

It was in that same minute that Fiorentina finally tested Areola that West Ham won a penalty.

A long Coufal throw into the box, over the defence and to Bowen running in behind, was controlled brilliantly by the diminutive winger. He moved it towards goal with wonderful chest control and then saw it poked away from him by the hand of Biraghi.

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Bowen appealed instantly, as did Antonio, but their claims were quickly waved away by the referee.

VAR were not so quick to dismiss it however, and after the referee was sent to view the incident again, The Hammers were awardd a penalty on the hour mark.

There was a quick distraction as the injured Zouma was replaced by Kehrer, but soon Benrahma stood on the edge of the penalty area, the ball placed on the spot.

Not only is the Algerian a fabulous striker of a still ball, he's also a penalty taker who can target different areas of the goal. Most would expect him to go low to the goalkeeper's right, and Terracciano in the Fiorentina goal felt the same as he went early to the corner.

All he saw as he dived was the ball flying emphatically the other way, smashed home high and hard by Benrahma. West Ham had a 1-0 lead in a European final with just under 30 minutes left on the clock.

For a couple of minutes, Fiorentina seemed panicked. It looked like West Ham might have a chance to control possession for a spell and try and extend their lead as their opponents searched for their composure.

That was fleeting though, as was the lead and only five minutes after the opening goal, Fiorentina were level.

Having just had a shot blocked in the area, and handball appeals turned down by the referee, Fiorentina were now happy to go a bit longer.

It deserved to be Amrabat who found the right pass into the area that caused trouble. Gonzalez beat Emerson far too easily in the air as a long diagonal arrowed in at the pair at the far side of the area.

Gonzalez headed down to Bonaventura, who did brilliantly to control and then hit the bouncing ball across goal, between Rice and Aguerd, and perfectly steered his half volley into the far corner, painfully close but always out of reach of Areola's despairing dive.

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It would have been sickening having that much hope for more than five minutes, anyway.

The Italians had sulked for a couple of minutes after conceding, but then come back into it brilliantly. After the equaliser, it appeared both teams suddenly realised this game could be won, and, ultimately, lost.

Moyes's move was to throw Fornals on, although the Spaniard struggled to make an impression on the ball.

There were chances, challenges, and some chaos to a game that had been suitably described as like a chess match until then.

Antonio was played through one-on-one for a chance saved by Terracciano, although it was quickly ruled offside. Then Mandrogara had a chance after a cross was controlled and then laid off to the edge of the area, but he could only hit wide, with credit to Soucek here, whose aggressive closing down forced the midfielder to shoot around him, making the chance much harder.

Soon Biraghi had an effort saved from 25 yards, a scramble in the Fiorentina box forced a save, and then a Soucek header from outside the area was pushed wide of goal. If anything, this final had become less cautious as time ebbed away.

There were two real moments left in this game, and the Brazilian Paqueta was at the heart of both.

The first came as he took a risk on the ball deep in the West Ham half. Having won the ball back in the right back position, he dwelled on it, standing with a foot on the ball in now trademark fashion. It was robbed from him, and Amrabat moved at the area with determination, but his shot was saved and held well by Areola.

And so it came down to it. A long ball forward was headed back into midfield by Aguerd. Soucek did...something, an attempted flick that bounced off him, dropped down and fell to Paqueta.

With 20 seconds of the regulation 90 minutes left, what was needed was the right man, at the right moment, to do the right thing. There are players in this team you might not want the ball to drop to when the right pass could win a trophy, but Lucas Paqueta is not that. In a game where he'd been quiet, not really been able to influence proceedings, his moment came.

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A touch out of his stride, and then he passed it through the high Fiorentina line. Bowen was onto it, behind the back four and through on goal.

He had 40 yards to goal, he just needed to keep out of the defender's reach and he'd have his shot on goal.

Declan Rice later said that as Bowen ran through, he said aloud "this is your time, Jaz." It was. The club's most reliable finisher had sprinted through, and as Terracciano came to the edge of his box, Bowen did enough, just enough, to get it past him, a little lift on the ball taking it just over the trailing leg of the Italian goalkeeper as he hit across goal to the bottom corner, left to right. It hit the back of the net. With seconds remaining, West Ham were 2-1 up.

The celebrations were wild, with all the players and many of the substitutes gathered in front of the fans, doing whatever they could with the joy they felt. Moyes had run down the touchline, ended up on the pitch, having his own David Pleat moment. You'd have never dreamed it, even if you really did believe West Ham would win.

By the time play had started again, the five minutes put up for the added time was irrelevant, for all the celebrations had added more.

It wasn't until the time had ticked just past 98 minutes that the final whistle blew. The bench emptied, the stands erupted. The players were everywhere, sprinting across the pitch, falling to their knees, celebrating with the fans. Moyes was sure to console his opposite number first, but ran on as quickly as he could.

And there was the night. There was Declan Rice lifting the trophy, there was David Moyes putting his winners' medal on his father, there was Kevin Nolan, Mark Noble and a whole host of academy players dancing around with the rest of the squad.

There's no describing the feeling. It's no easier now than it was at the time. I sat and cried, I won't have been the only one, and if you don't get it, you never will.

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Manager's Rating

David Moyes: 10/10
A coaching career of over 20 years, in his 1,097th game, David Moyes had won his first major trophy.

There are names that go down in folklore, and now David Moyes will be mentioned in the same breath as John Lyall and Ron Greenwood. He will always be the man that managed West Ham to this success. And in those 43 years since the 1980 FA Cup final, there could hardly have been a manager who deserved it more, who it was as wonderful to see get that win.

West Ham are massive, and how could you deny it. Champions of Europe, we know what we are.

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Player Ratings

Alphonse Areola
He wasn't tested enough to need to be anything more. He did hold shots well, which can be important.

Vladimir Coufal
Defended well, and managed to maintain concentration and discipline as the full backs were pinned back by Fiorentina's wingers and high line. The quick long throw for Bowen was excellent.

Emerson Palmieri
Many have called Emerson their Man of the Match, but the defending on the Fiorentina equaliser was a very sore point on otherwise strong display. With the time to judge it, and an opponent who didn't have any advantage winning the ball, the lack of real challenge was awful.

Kurt Zouma
The centre backs managed the box very well. This was a pair who would stand up well to a team that like to cross into the area, and the fact that neither Fiorentina striker played well, nor did La Viola really have chances, points to a good defensive display.

Nayef Aguerd
Much the same as Zouma, although Aguerd made a couple big challenges that stand out.

Declan Rice
Contained, controlled, European champion. Only egotistical little chairmen want to talk about his future, the rest want to enjoy the man who followed in the footsteps of Bobby and Billy. Rarely saw the eye catching Declan Rice, but he and Soucek guarded the defence brilliantly. There was no dangerous central progression.

Tomas Soucek
A few misplaced passes will catch the eye, but I would bet his centre backs absolutely loved Soucek. Threw himself at one big chance, and he was the man with all the running and drive late on to get West Ham up the pitch.

Lucas Paqueta
He started to cause some problems in the second half, but it would have gone down as a performance on the fringes until that pass. It was perfection in a moment, the only choice, and one made and delivered with the precision required.

Said Benrahma
Benrahma struggled to influence the game and couldn't provide the magic spark in a performance that saw him do more defending than attacking. But speaking of Bowen's nerve, what about Sa??d's? Rifled home his penalty, and celebrated like an icon.

Jarrod Bowen
He's on fire. His defensive contributions were outstanding, Biraghi will wonder how he's faced a winger so good at halting a full back's forward play. If he wasn't quite where he needed to be to close down the left back, he made sure he was sprinting at him and threw himself at any cross he could block. He then goes and wins the penalty after fantastic chest control, before holding his nerve with seconds remaining. It's your time.

Michail Antonio
A bit of a thankless task as he was isolated from his teammates and given little protection from the ref. There were moments, but his final will mostly be remembered for struggling to retain possession with simple passes.


Thilo Kehrer
(Replaced Zouma 61') Seamlessly came in and defended well, and with composure.

Pablo Fornals
(Replaced Benrahma 76) His best work was defensively, and especially everything he did to keep the workrate up in stoppage time.

Angelo Ogbonna
(Replaced Antonio 90) N/A

Lukasz Fabianski
Did not play.

Ben Johnson
Did not play.

Aaron Cresswell
Did not play.

Freddie Potts
Did not play.

Flynn Downes
Did not play. Other unused subs: Maxwel Cornet, Divin Mubama, Danny Ings

Manuel Lanzini
Did not play. Other unused subs: Maxwel Cornet, Divin Mubama, Danny Ings

Match Facts

West Ham United: Alphonse Areola, Vladimir Coufal, Emerson Palmieri, Kurt Zouma, Nayef Aguerd, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Lucas Paqueta, Said Benrahma, Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio.

Goals: Said Benrahma 62 Jarrod Bowen 90                .

Booked: Said Benrahma 31 Nayef Aguerd 53 Aaron Cresswell 91 Jarrod Bowen 97    .

Sent off: None.

Fiorentina: .

Subs not used: .

Goals: .

Booked: .

Sent off: None.

Referee: .

Attendance: 17,890.

Man of the Match: Jarrod Bowen.