West Ham ended their 43-year wait for a major trophy as Jarrod Bowen scored a last-minute goal to beat Fiorentina and win the Europa Conference League in Prague.
The final seemed to be heading for extra time after Said Benrahma’s second-half penalty was cancelled out just seven minutes later by a well-taken effort from Giacomo Bonaventura.
It was a testy and sometimes bad-tempered game – and at one point it got downright ugly as Fiorentina captain Cristiano Biraghi was struck by a plastic bottle thrown from the West Ham section.
The match was settled in the most dramatic manner.
Bowen timed his run to perfection as Lucas Paqueta slid a superb pass through the Fiorentina defence.
The England man ran free, steadied himself, then beat Pietro Terracciano with a calm finish to thrill the Hammers fans – who were far greater in number than the 5,000 tickets they were allotted – and send manager David Moyes running down the touchline to celebrate the first major silverware of his career.
It means captain Declan Rice, in probably his final game for the club, emulated club greats Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds by leading the club to glory. Moore captained West Ham to the 1965 European Cup Winners’ Cup and Bonds led them to the FA Cup in 1975 and 1980.
The victory also seals a place in next season’s Europa League and means European football for the third year running for the first time in the club’s history.
The manner of victory could not have been any sweeter for West Ham.
Whilst Nayef Aguerd took time out to console Morocco team-mates Sofyan Amrabat at the final whistle, the celebrations of the Premier League team were something to behold.
From 18-year-old forward Divin Mubama, who played no part, to Moyes himself, finally a trophy-winner after such a long career in management, all joined in joy, leaping around trying to take it all in.
There will be an unwanted post-script as Uefa is bound to come down hard on the Hammers for the unwanted first-half scenes that left Biraghi playing with a bandage round his head for the last hour of the contest and forced the club to condemn those responsible.
However, that is for another day.
The reaction from the pitch and the stands at the final whistle give a lie to anyone who feels this tournament is beneath them and should give hope to Aston Villa, England’s entrants next season.
At the centre of it all was Rice. There was no thought of his future as he lapped up the adulation of the fans who have followed his journey from rising academy star to full England honours.
West Ham wouldn’t be denied
Some West Ham fans must have thought they had won it when Benrahma coolly drove home his spot-kick after the video assistant referee intervened to rule Biraghi had handled Bowen’s header.
But the loss of Kurt Zouma to injury just before Benrahma scored disrupted West Ham’s rhythm and after Nicolas Gonzalez had provided the knockback, Bonaventura’s excellent control and shot was too good for Alphonse Areola, preferred in goal to first-choice Lukasz Fabianski and maintaining his 100% appearance record in the competition.
Areola had been fortunate to escape conceding the opener in the final minute of the opening period when he failed to get down to a Christian Kouame header, which bounced off a post and fell kindly for Luka Jovic.
Areola should have kept out Jovic’s header, which was straight at him. Instead, he fumbled it over the line. The Frenchman was hugely relieved to see the offside flag raised, a decision confirmed by VAR. Jovic got an accidental boot in the face from Tomas Soucek instead and had to be replaced at the break.
The game didn’t really develop any momentum as too many players exaggerated non-existent fouls, which made it a tough evening for Spanish referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande, much as it was for Anthony Taylor in the Europa League final seven days earlier.
Grande did keep command of the contest, rightly booking Benrahma for diving at one point.
In the end though, all this was a footnote.
Bowen scored. West Ham got their trophy and Rice got to lift it.