West Ham are gripped by Europa League heartbreak in crucial AZ Alkmaar decision
Omas Soucek says West Ham players are even more motivated than 12 months ago as they are once again on the fringes of European history.
The Hammers are just 90 minutes from their first major European final in 47 years and within reach of the club’s first silver medal since the 1980 FA Cup.
David Moyes’ side travel to AZ Alkmaar on Thursday night hoping to defend their 2-1 lead in the first leg and secure a place in next month’s Europa Conference League final in Prague.
A year ago, Moyes’ men went to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League semi-finals with the same result but hopes of a comeback faded with Aaron Creswell’s early red card and Soucek says the pain of being so close has not yet completely disappeared.
“I haven’t watched the game for many days, months, even today because I was so disappointed,” said Soucek. “I wanted to be in the final, but I remember almost every set piece or [thing] we could do better.
“[We learned] From the first minute of the first leg we did better than last year. It’s a huge improvement but now we’re here and everyone’s motivated to reach the final because we know West Ham haven’t made it for a couple of years and we want to give our fans that chance to get to the final . That’s our goal for all of us, so I think we’re even more motivated than last year.”
Joined by defender Vladimir Coufal, who is back in contention after suffering a hamstring injury, Soucek has provided added impetus towards reaching a final to be held in his home country’s capital on June 7th.
“Knowing that the final will be held in Prague at the beginning of the season, I said to the boys: ‘Come on, we have to go there because this is my home,'” he added. “It is therefore a special motivation for me to come there because I know the stadium very well. I went there when I was 10 years old, so that’s another special motivation.”
The Czech has largely failed to regain the form of previous seasons this season but, like many of Moyes’ regulars, has improved significantly in recent months, which Soucek himself points to a growing understanding in midfield with captain Declan Rice and club players. Record signing Lucas Paqueta.
“Before I played [just] Declan was there for quite a long time, but this season Lucas came along and it’s true that we couldn’t create the right connection between all of us in the first couple of games,” said the 28-year-old. “Sometimes it takes time and now we all know what each other can do on the pitch, how to attack or defend together and be a good part of the team.
“I hope we show that [tonight] Even though we’ve already shown in the last few games that we’re on the right track.”
Alongside Coufal, West Ham also have Michail Antonio back in contention after suffering a calf problem in the first leg last week.
https://www.standard.co.uk/sport/football/west-ham-az-alkmaar-europa-conference-league-b1081980.html West Ham are gripped by Europa League heartbreak in crucial AZ Alkmaar decision