AZ runs afoul of West Ham United and misses Conference League final
AZ failed to reach a European final for the first time in 42 years. West Ham United barred the way in the Conference League semifinals by scoring in Alkmaar in injury time: 0-1. A week earlier, the English won 2-1.
West Ham already won the then Europe Cup II (for cup winners) in 1965 at the expense of 1860 Munich, and this time they will meet Fiorentina on June 7 in Prague.
The Londoners had it much better in the first half in Alkmaar than a week ago. Then Tijjani Reijnders even managed to score just before half-time, but an Alkmaar goal in the first 45 minutes was not in the cards this time.
Indeed, the biggest chance came in the name of West Ham midfielder Lucas Paquetá, who hit the outside of the post with a curled shot after about 25 minutes. In the run-up, Sam Beukema easily allowed himself to be put away by the physically strong striker Michail Antonio.
West Ham’s wall
The home team continually had to contend with West Ham’s erected wall and hoped for inspirations from Jesper Karlsson, among others. The left winger returned last Sunday with a substitute against FC Emmen after an upper leg injury and that substitution gave hope.
Karlsson did show himself briefly in the opening stages, but he too bit off on the tight-knit London defense. Just like Milos Kerkez, his companion at left back, returned from suspension.
The best AZ opportunity in the first half fell to right back Yukinari Sugawara, who shot wide just minutes before the halftime signal via Nayef Aguerd’s leg. That was all coach Pascal Jansen’s team had in store and that had to change in the second half.
Energetic second half
AZ then began the second 45 minutes more energetically. Striker Vangelis Pavlidis could not tap in a cross from Kerkez, an effort from Sven Mijnans lacked power and a pass from Reijnders to the free Pavlidis proved impure.
On the opposite side, goalkeeper Mathew Ryan had to act on a blast from distance by Declan Rice, the midfielder so coveted by the top clubs in the Premier League. The desired transfer fee for the England international now exceeds 100 million euros.
Substitute De Wit
AZ had Dani de Wit, also recovered from injury, on the bench and he came on for Mijnans twenty minutes before time. Just before that, West Ham goalkeeper Alphonse Areola saved a Pantelis Hatzidiakos effort.
The home side had to take more and more risks to at least force an extension and escaped on a chance for Aguerd.
However, the much-desired 1-0 for AZ failed to materialize, throwing a second European final match (after 1981 in the UEFA Cup against Ipswich Town) into the water. Pablo Fornals even struck in injury time and sprinkled extra salt in the Alkmaar wound.