The race to claim the prestigious UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL) trophy will reach its climax when Italian giants, ACF Fiorentina take on English side, West Ham United. The much anticipated UECL final is scheduled to take place at the iconic Fortuna Arena in Prague, Czech Republic.
Road to UECL Final
When the concept of the UEFA Europa Conference League was introduced, it faced plenty of backlash from the fans. Many thought that the competition would not attract interest as it was going to be the third European competition after the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.
But all those doubts were squashed when AS Roma won the inaugural UECL final last season after a thrilling campaign. And this season has been no different. Over the course of the season, we have witnessed some scintillating performances from some of the top clubs in Europe. Regardless of their below-par domestic performances, both Fiorentina and West Ham have been on a different level in the UECL and fully deserve to be in the finals.
West Ham United’s run to the final has been impeccable. The Hammers have enjoyed a near-perfect run in this year’s competition. They topped their group comprehensively by winning all six games during the group stage. Which included Belgian heavyweights RSC Anderlecht, Silkeborg from Denmark, and Romanian side FCSB.
The only time that the Hammers failed to win a game this season was against KAA Gent in the first leg of the Quarter Finals. The match finished all square after the Belgian forward, Hugo Cuypers, equalized in the 57th minute for the home side. But that goal was only consolation, as West Ham United brushed aside their Belgian counterparts with a thumping 4-1 victory in the second leg at the London stadium. The Hammers then went on to defeat the Dutch side, AZ, in the semifinals by 3-1 on aggregate.
ACF Fiorentina’s journey to the final has not been as brilliant as West Ham’s, but still, they have impressed a lot. The Italian club finished runners-up in their group on goal difference after they were tied on 13 points with the Turkish side, İstanbul Başakşehir. They were beaten comprehensively by the Turkish club by a scoreline of 3-0. They were also held to a shock 1-1 draw against Latvian minnows Rigas Futbola Skola.
In contrast to their mediocre performances during the group stage, ACF Fiorentina were quite clinical during the knockout stages of the competition. They defeated Sporting de Braga and Sivasspor comprehensively by 7-2 and 5-1, on aggregate, respectively. The Polish club Lech Poznań gave them a torrid time in the Quarter Finals. The Italian side defeated them convincingly in the first leg by 4-1. But Lech Poznań showed great fight and resilience in the return leg by scoring three goals that made it 4-4 on aggregate.
Eventually, ACF Fiorentina’s blushes were saved by two late strikes from Sottil and Castrovilli. The Italian side showed their best performance in the second leg of the semifinals. They headed into the second leg by trailing the Swiss side, FC Basel, by two goals to one. Two goals by González forced extra time at the home of the Swiss giants. Then Czech international Antonin Barák scored in the 130th minute of the game to book a place in the finals for his side.
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David Moyes rested key players ahead of the final game of the Premier League season, against Leicester City. So, he is expected to revert to his best playing eleven for the UECL final. The Cup goalkeeper, Alphonse Areola, will be assigned the goalkeeping duties ahead of Łukasz Fabiański whose involvement has been restricted to domestic competitions only.
Furthermore, Coufal is expected to start ahead of Thilo Kehrer at right back for the Hammers. The only absentee for West Ham will be Gianluca Scamacca. The Italian was ruled out for the season in April after undergoing a knee operation. Hence, Michail Antonio will be leading the line for the Hammers.
Vincenzo Italiano also rotated his squad a bit during the last game of the Serie A season over the weekend. Terracciano will be standing in goal for the Italian side after he was given time off in the previous game. Lucas Martinez and Nikola Milenković will form the crucial centre-half pairing in the UECL final. Whereas Ikone, Cabral, and Kouame are expected to lead the front line for Italiano’s men. Fiorentina fans will be hoping that Gonzalez and Castrovilli can feature at some stage during the game after they both picked knocks in the last game.
Players to Watch
Arthur Cabral has been in phenomenal form for Fiorentina this season. He is their leading goal scorer in all competitions this campaign with 17 goals to his name. Fiorentina fans will be hoping that his strength and presence in the six-yard box will help to give West Ham United’s centre-backs a tough time.
The French international seems to be returning to his best after having a poor 2021-2022 season. His quick feet and trickery with the ball are going to come in handy for the Italian club. With him playing on the flanks, the West Ham fullbacks will certainly have their work cut out.
Michail Antonio is the joint second top scorer in the UEFA Europe Conference League this season. His six goals have been vital in securing a place in the UECL final for West Ham. The Jamaican forward is not only a good finisher, but he is physically very strong and difficult to defend against. So, Fiorentina forwards will have to be at their best if they wish to stop him.
The Czech international will be raring to feature in the final more than anyone else in the stadium as he returns to his hometown. Tomas Souček and Vladimír Coufal used to play for SK Slavia Prague before completing their move to West Ham. Souček presence in the heart of the Hammer’s midfield will be vital tonight as they face a very physical Fiorentina side. West Ham fans will not only be relying on his defensive abilities, but they will be hoping that he contributes at the other end of the pitch too as he has a Knack for chipping in with some vital goals.