What a night for West Ham. The biggest in recent years and without a doubt since moving to the London stadium. The stands bounced, the players jumped, tears in the eyes of young and old. It was a privilege to be there and a night few will soon forget…if ever.
The air in East London was filled with chants of “Irons, Irons” and “West Ham are massive” long after the final whistle. And it will be an evening that will join the greats of West Ham history in club folklore.
The players were superb, from the fantastic Alphonse Areola in goal, to Michail Antonio’s relentless rush in front, to the imperious Declan Rice, one-14 West Ham were brilliant.
Their game plan worked until the end, high pressing, harassing Sevilla and an unbroken run proved too much for their European opponents. But it was more than work rate and desire, it was skill and tactical discipline. Moyes organized his squad perfectly, took the right bets on injury doubts and timed his substitutions to perfection.
The applause will be by far and rightly so but as the manager said ‘there’s no medal for this’ he wants more and there’s no reason for this West Ham side to cannot continue to achieve this.
Read more: Who West Ham can face in Europa League quarter-final after Sevilla win in Round of 16
Risks to take
Before the match, David Moyes was adamant he would not take any risks with his player selections and would only play those who were fully fit. He may have been telling the truth, but it seemed a little hard to believe.
In a game as huge as last night, the risks were worth taking. Michail Antonio and Aaron Cresswell both picked up injuries on Sunday against Aston Villa, but the pair were in the starting XI on Thursday night. Regardless of the magnitude of their blows, it was Moyes’s right decision to risk them.
Not only was it West Ham’s biggest game of the season, it was also the biggest at the London Stadium and arguably the biggest since the 2006 FA Cup final. Whatever the result, the risks were worth taking. Both men played the full 90 minutes of the game and deep into extra time and looked sharp from the start. It proved a worthwhile gamble and Moyes should be applauded for his willingness to roll the dice.
Declan Rice was in for this game. He spent the entire game preparing his players and cheering them on as the Hammers fought their way to the quarter-finals. Before the match, the team lined up for a photo with Rice as captain in the center of the image, such was his enthusiasm to start the England international cannot have crouched for more than half -second before jumping and sprinting.
Rice ran half the length of the court before reaching the goal line and urging the crowd to clap even louder. The place was already moving but it felt like Spinal Tap was in town and the crowd answered his call and took him in at 11am.
Twenty seconds into the second half and after he and Soucek had tried their luck on goal, Rice again turned to the crowd and pleaded for more, they duly responded. It wasn’t just as a cheerleader that Rice showed his leadership, he did it on the pitch, driving uphill with the ball, raking in cross passes from 50 yards, protesting with the referee against Sevilla’s antics which started early and generally setting the high-intensity mood for his side.
If this is, and I hope it won’t be, Rice’s last European campaign in a West Ham shirt, the captain is determined to put on a good show. He deserves to play at the highest level for club and country, everyone at West Ham wants it in burgundy and blue.
Rock the London Stadium
It was like a night at the Boleyn. This is how the London stadium rebounded on Thursday evening.
The noise when Tomas Soucek’s head hit the back of the next one was like nothing this stadium has heard since Super Saturday in 2012 and certainly nothing West Ham has ever done produced decibels like it .
From the pre-match to the final whistle, the stadium vibrated. From the Wembley Euro 2020 DJ setting the pre-match vibe to Rice whipping up the fans, the stadium felt like home. It’s not realistic to expect an atmosphere like this every week but no one will ever again be able to say that this stadium is soulless.
Visiting supporters enjoy chanting about West Ham ‘selling their soul for this ****hole’, the London stadium was full of soul on Thursday night and sets a new standard for the ground.
Tomas Soucek didn’t have the same impact in his second full season as he did in his first, not only does football.london but by David Moyes. However, Thursday night Soucek was back to his best.
The Czech captain was all over the pitch, often Antonio’s closest man but at other times making vital blocks in his own box. His first-half header was just classic Soucek, he raced into the box but saw Antonio take his time on the ball. The midfielder then kept himself alive and peeled at the back post to attack the striker’s cut cross and buried his head.
He made things look easier than they were, he had to climb higher than his marker Ludwig Augustinsson and head the ball into the one place Bono couldn’t reach and that’s exactly what he did, placing it neatly inside the far post before heading off to party.
Such is his love for the club after he jumped in the air and shouted in delight Soucek remembered to cross his arms before heading towards the fans in celebration. As if they needed another reason to adore him, Soucek cemented himself in their hearts with that one instinctive celebration. He even remembered calling the club several times during his post-match press conference!