Jarrod Bowen’s late winner helps West Ham United end 58-year European title drought
It was in 1965 when England’s West Ham United had last won a major European trophy, as an Alan Sealey brace had handed it the title following a comfortable victory over 1860 Munich.
It has been 58 years since Ron Greenwood’s title conquest has been replicated by David Moyes, who helped the Hammers lift the UEFA Europa Conference League on Wednesday night after edging past Italy’s Fiorentina at the Fortuna Arena in Prague, with Jarrod Bowen’s late winner bringing a thrilling end to the gripping fixture.
However, the Hammers did not exactly pull off an upset, given that they were unbeaten throughout the competition. Bowen’s late winner ended a 58-year wait for a major European trophy, which was vastly a surprise for most fans, considering that Moyes’ men barely escaped relegation in the English Premier League.
The meeting began with the Italians having a shot blocked in the second minute for Christian Kouamé before the English went for the counter-attack, with Michail Antonio trying to drill it into the bottom-left-corner, only to be denied by goalkeeper Pietro Terracciano.
There were no promising chances from either side for some time thereon, and as the match was turning out to be an evenly-poised contest, it somewhat left the West Ham fans unnerved.
In the 34th minute, as Cristiano Biraghi approached for a corner kick, the Hammers’ fans were seen throwing plastic/fibre water glasses on the pitch. At the same time, one of the glasses hit Biraghi, leaving him with a bloodied head and forcing a short stoppage of the gameplay by the referee.
As the medical team attended Biraghi, whose head was bandaged, announcements were made over the loudspeaker in the venue to the West Ham fans to maintain peace. Also, some of the Hammers’ players were seen urging their fans to behave properly.
While the play resumed, it was not until the fifth minute of the stoppage time before the break that the most promising chance arrived, with Nicolás González’s cross finding the head of Kouamé, who drove it in for Fiorentina, only to be ruled out offside, as it was goalless at half-time, with Viola dominating with the possession and in terms of chances created.
Before the restart, Luka Jovic was replaced by Arthur Cabral for Fiorentina. It took 12 minutes for the first optimistic chance of the half, as Kouame sprinted into the box in a solo effort before continuing to curl it in with his right foot, only to be saved by keeper Alphonse Areola.
Nevertheless, it was West Ham that was rewarded in the 60th minute after the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) confirmed that Biraghi had touched the ball inside the box with his hand, leading to a penalty for the side.
While both teams made a change, with Kurt Zouma being replaced by Thilo Kehrer for the Hammers, Viola replaced Kouame with Riccardi Saponara. As for the spot-kick, Said Benrahma made no mistake by hammering it into the top-right corner, sending Terracciano the wrong way.
However, West Ham’s celebrations were short-lived, with Giacomo Bonaventura drawing the equaliser in the 67th minute, with Nicolas Gonzalez coming up with a fine assist, doing an incredible job to get past Emerson with an air-ball. He also became the eldest Italian to score in a European final (33 years, 289 days) since Paolo Maldini (36) for AC Milan against Liverpool in the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final.
Back to square one, it was followed by a chance each for Fiorentina and West Ham in the 71st and 80th minute respectively while Tomas Soucek gave his side another convincing chance in the 82nd minute off a header, it was denied by Terracciano.
Viola made another change in the 84th minute, bringing in Igor for Luca Ranieri. However, six minutes later, it was Bowen who found the ball right on time to get past the off-side trap, sprinting ahead all alone and safely tapping it past an onrushing Terracciano to score the winner and seal it for the Hammers, as Lucas Paqueta came up with the timely assistance.
It became the third instance of a 90th-minute goal in a European final, and interestingly, all of them came from English sides. Also, Bowen became the first Englishman to score a European final winner since Arsenal’s Alan Smith versus Parma during UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup 1994.
As both sides made one last substitution each, it was followed by five stoppage minutes, with the play being actually extended by eight minutes. However, it was not enough for Fiorentina to script a comeback, as West Ham had switched to a strict defensive mood, enough to get the job done and send the English fans into a frenzy. Notably, it resulted in the Hammers winning more games in the UECL this season (12) than in the EPL (11), a first of its kind.