PRAGUE: West Ham and Fiorentina haven’t won a European trophy for more than 50 years.
The drought will end for one of them when they play out the Europa Conference League final on Wednesday in Prague.
“This will be the biggest match that the club has had in so long, so it’s going to be an honor to be part of and hopefully we can create some history on the night for the fans to cheer about,” said West Ham captain Declan Rice, who is widely expected to leave the club after the season.
West Ham earned their lone European title in 1965, the old European Cup Winners’ Cup. Alan Sealey scored twice to beat 1860 Munich 2-0 at Wembley Stadium. The Hammers reached the final again in 1976.
Forward Jarrod Bowen scored four goals in helping West Ham reach its third European final and said it will be “certainly be the biggest game of my career.”
“I’ve played for England, but I think achieving this with your teammates who you’ve been with together to get to a final and you have the opportunity to win a trophy together, it will be a massive moment,” Bowen said. “We’re mentally ready, physically ready for a massive game tomorrow night.”
Fiorentina’s only European trophy was also the Cup Winners’ Cup, the first one back in 1961 when it defeated Rangers in a two-leg final 4-1 on aggregate.
By reaching the second final of the Europa Conference League, Fiorentina have become the first club to contest a final in four major continental competitions.
Fiorentina were defeated by Real Madrid for the 1957 European Cup (the forerunner of the Champions League), and by Juventus in the 1990 UEFA Cup final. They also failed to win the Cup Winners’ Cup back to back, losing the 1962 final to Atletico Madrid.
Fiorentina have had a good buildup. They played the Italian Cup final two weeks ago and were beaten by Inter Milan 2-1. That’s the only loss for the Florence-based club in their last six matches. The last warmup for the Conference final was beating Sassuolo 3-1 last Friday for an eighth-place finish in Serie A.
“We needed this victory,” Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Italiano said after the match. “Now we have a mountain to climb but we will be aiming for the summit in Prague.”
Despite struggling to a 14th-place finish in the English Premier League, West Ham have been a European title contender for a second straight year under manager David Moyes.
Following a campaign to the Europa League semifinals a year ago, West Ham marched to Prague as the only undefeated team in the third-tier Europa Conference League. West Ham won 13 games including qualifying, and were held by Gent to 1-1 in the first leg of their quarterfinal. The Hammers were the first club to win all six group stage encounters.
“They’re a team that has a lot of ability, they’ve got some top level players, they have got strength all over the pitch,” Italiano said about West Ham in Prague on Tuesday. “But if we’ve made it to the final, then we clearly have some strength as well.”
At Eden Arena in the Czech capital, West Ham will face a team that scored the most goals in the campaign, 36, led by forward Arthur Cabral’s seven.
“I’ve been hugely impressed by Fiorentina,” Moyes said. “A difficult opponent, an Italian opponent is always difficult and we respect that.”
The reward for the winner of the final is not just a trophy but also a berth in the Europa League next season.
The first Conference final was won by Jose Mourinho’s Roma against Feyenoord 1-0 in Tirana, Albania a year ago.