West Ham reached the semi-finals of the Europa Conference League on Thursday, and David Moyes and Declan Rice delighted in giving back to the team’s supporters after a trying season.
With a 4-1 home win and a 5-2 overall victory over Gent, thanks to goals from Lucas Paqueta, Rice, and a brace from Michail Antonio, West Ham advanced.
After reaching the Europa League final four the previous season, Moyes’ team advanced to its second continental semi-final in as many years as a result.
With West Ham battling relegation in the Premier League, sitting just four points above the bottom three, Moyes hailed the Hammers’ achievements in balancing European football and domestic challenges.
He told BT Sport: “It is a brilliant achievement. To do it two years in a row is special, it really is. It doesn’t happen very often so we’ll look forward to the semi-finals.
“It’s been tough for the fans [this year]. We’ve had so many positive things coming from European football that it has built a great relationship with the players.
“It was really important we got to the semi-finals. Gent caused us problems and we had to work hard for the win.”
EUROPEAN SEMI-FINALISTS! ⚒️ pic.twitter.com/9QChH6BYI1— West Ham United (@WestHam) April 20, 2023
Rice’s 58th-minute strike put the Hammers in full control of the tie after Paqueta and Antonio’s first goal had put West Ham into the lead following Hugo Cuypers’ first-half opener.
The West Ham captain echoed his manager’s sentiment, relishing the impact the result could have on the fans after a difficult season.
Rice told BT Sport: “I can’t put it into words. Another semi-final back-to-back. The place was rocking and you felt it. To score and the lads play really well, ah, it was a top night for the club.
“In the last couple of games we’ve not got off to the best start, waiting for teams to score to react. But when we got that goal we felt the buzz and the energy. In the second half it could have been six or seven.”
As for his goal, driving over the halfway line before drilling into the bottom-left corner, Rice sees it as one of his best finishes for the club.
“When I pick the ball up in those positions and have space to drive into I feel good,” the England midfielder added. “That’s when I feel I’m at my best. It doesn’t happen all the time.
“It definitely goes down as one of my best goals for West Ham. I didn’t even know how to celebrate. I was just so happy to score, let alone it be like that, so it was special.”
“There’s obviously not been a lot for west ham fans to cheer for this season but they will be happy tonight and to put a smile on their faces is unbelievable.”
West Ham will face AZ Alkmaar in the semi-finals after the Eredivisie side won on penalties against Anderlecht, who squandered a 2-0 lead from the first leg.
“AZ Alkmaar have had good momentum all year and have a good young team with lots of new talent,” Moyes added.
“It will be a really hard game. For them to come from 2-0 down and get through is a great achievement.”