ALKMAAR, Netherlands: Substitute Pablo Formals scored a breakaway goal in stoppage time as West Ham United secured a 1-0 win at AZ Alkmaar on Thursday (May 18) and a place in the Europa Conference League final after a 3-1 aggregate triumph.
The Hammers are through to a European club competition final for the first time in almost a half-century after a 2-1 win in the first leg in London last week and the last-gasp 1-0 triumph in Thursday’s return leg away against the Dutch side.
They will now take on either FC Basel or Fiorentina in the final in Prague on Jun 7.
West Ham, who won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1965 and finished runners-up in the same competition in 1976, put up a dogged showing despite looking tired and spending much time chasing their hosts.
But they were stout in defence and were already playing for time at the end of the game when Formals broke away in the fourth minute of stoppage time to win the game.
AZ put up a brave showing but the difference in class between the Premier League outfit and their Dutch opponent was evident as West Ham dealt with everything their hosts threw at them.
There was a scare late in the game when the ball hit the hand of Kurt Zouma after being punched clear by his own goalkeeper Alphonse Areola but despite home protests, no penalty was awarded.
Lucas Paqueta hit the outside of the post in the first half while AZ looked passive in the opening period, despite rowdy support, but came out with vigour after the break, making dangerous runs and delivering inviting balls into the West Ham penalty area but failing to find a decisive touch.
Jarrod Bowen had a breakaway chance in the 74th minute but his pullback in search of a teammate was cleared, while at the other end, there was an anxious clearance by Areola after a back pass from Thilo Kehrer looked to be heading into his own net.
Defender Nayef Aguerd then put the ball wide when unmarked at the back post with seven minutes remaining before the last-gasp winner.