West Ham v. AZ Alkmaar: Preview

West Ham welcome Dutch side AZ Alkmaar to the London Stadium tonight in what promises to be a special occasion in East London. The Hammers are all but safe in the Premier League this season and can now focus on European exploits. West Ham fans will be dreaming of a first European trophy since the 1965 European Cup Winners Cup. Victory tonight will take them one step closer to seeing Declan Rice emulating Bobby Moore and bringing continental silverware home.

West Ham sit in 15th position in the Premier League whilst AZ occupy fourth place in the Eredivisie. Having recently suffered three straight defeats in the Premier League, Irons boss David Moyes has come back under pressure at West Ham, yet the Scot restocked his credit in the bank at the weekend. A 1-0 win against Manchester United will allow him and his side to attack tonight wholeheartedly. The league has been challenging all season long, but Europe has offered a welcome escape for the Hammers. Gent pushed West Ham hard in the quarter-finals, leading 2-1 on aggregate at one stage before their opponents surged back, and such a comeback highlighted that Moyes possesses the strongest squad in the UEFA Conference League.

AZ Alkmaar are not exactly experiencing new ground in Europe – they reached the 1981 UEFA Cup final – but this represents their first time in a continental semi-final since featuring in the last four of the UEFA Cup back in 2004-05. Everyone associated with the Dutch outfit will view this as their best opportunity to win a European trophy with momentum very much on their side. Domestic commitments may cause some dilemma for coach Pascal Jansen. In the Eredivisie, AZ sit just two points adrift of Europa League qualification and six ahead of fifth-placed FC Twente with three games left, one of which is against PSV Eindhoven. Juggling European football with concerns back in the Netherlands will likely prove their undoing.

After stunning Lazio in the last 16, AZ overturned a 2-0 aggregate deficit to Anderlecht to eventually prevail on penalties, setting up a mouth-watering showdown with West Ham tonight. AZ have only faced English opponents twice in over 13 years, playing Manchester United in the Europa League group stages where they drew 0-0 at the AFAS Stadion before losing 4-0 in Manchester. AZ are famed at home for developing players and brining through the brightest young starlets, much the same as West Ham and their ‘Academy Of Football’.

That academy produced the most respected name in English football. The boy from Barking legend Moore remains the only West Ham captain to count European honours amongst his trophy cabinet. Rice is hoping to change that starting tonight. Expect Moyes’ boys to shine.

Prediction: West Ham 3-1 AZ

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