European hits & misses: Motivational David Moyes has West Ham believing as Wesley Fofana returns to inspire Leicester

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Motivational Moyes has Hammers believing

Image: Declan Rice starts the celebrations against Sevilla

This was a genuine European glory night for West Ham, reminiscent of Upton Park in its heyday as the Ukrainian Andriy Yarmolenko fired the Hammers to a 2-1 aggregate victory over Sevilla and into a historic quarter-final.

West Ham have reached the last eight of a major European competition for the first time since the 1980-81 Cup Winners’ Cup. Mark Noble broke down in tears on the pitch, a man who has made more than 500 appearances for this one club.

It was a script fit for Hollywood, laced in emotion to light up the London Stadium and to break the stalemate that had set in after Tomas Soucek headed West Ham level in the tie.

These East End debutants in the knockout stage of the Europa League stunned one of the tournament favourites and six-time winners – and it was made possible thanks to the continued excellence of David Moyes.

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Tomas Soucek discusses his goal for West Ham against Sevilla which drew the tie level and also how happy he was for Andriy Yarmolenko who sealed the win.

  • West Ham 2-0 Sevilla (agg 2-1): Match report
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats
  • Europa League fixtures | Results
  • Champions League, Europa League, ECL last eight: When’s the draw?

“He deserves massive credit from the first moment he stepped through the door,” Declan Rice said afterwards. “At that stage, we weren’t performing as a team.

“Before the game, he gave a great motivational speech that really spurred us on. He just said that the fans were going to egg us on tonight and that he believed in us as players.

Also See:

  • Europa League, ECL last eight: When’s the draw?

  • West Ham 2-0 Sevilla (agg 2-1): Match report

  • Europa League results

  • Get Sky Sports

“Just about every game we’ve played in here this season we’ve scored a goal so it was just about being resilient and staying on it. We got everyone onside tonight and I’m just lost for words.”

Image: Andriy Yarmolenko scored the winner for West Ham

This was a special night. Michail Antonio admitted it rivalled the final night at the famous Boleyn Ground, and it had the perfect dramatic denouement. Yarmolenko climbed off the bench to prolong West Ham’s European adventure at a time when his mind is understandably elsewhere.

The Ukraine international also scored against Aston Villa on Sunday in what was an emotional first appearance since Russia invaded his homeland. His instinctive intervention in the second half of extra time sparked joyous celebrations on the pitch and bedlam in the stands.

There are some big teams left in the competition, none bigger than Barcelona, but West Ham look set for more special European nights as long as Moyes is at the helm.
Ben Grounds

McGregor typifies Rangers’ fighting spirit

Image: Rangers stood firm to progress in Belgrade

Rangers roll on in the Europa League. It wasn’t a vintage performance in the 2-1 defeat to Red Star Belgrade, but it didn’t need to be.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst has built on a solid foundation and his Rangers players showed courage in the eye of a storm in the Serbian capital, and the tactical flexibility to withstand waves of early pressure shows there is a growing maturity to handle the biggest of European occasions.

Such bravery was typified by Allan McGregor, who aged 40 years and 45 days became the oldest goalkeeper to make at least 11 saves in a Europa League game.

  • Red Star Belgrade 2-1 Rangers (agg 2-4): Match report
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats
  • Europa League fixtures | Results

“The belief is slowly getting stronger,” Van Bronckhorst said. “We take it game by game and there are big teams left in the draw. It will be two more big games for us to develop as a team to reach one step further which is always the goal.”

They fell at this stage in each of the last two seasons – to Bayer Leverkusen and then Slavia Prague 12 months ago – but no side will want to be paired with them in Friday’s draw.

“Each year we want to progress more than we did in the previous year,” said Ryan Kent, who scored Rangers’ goal in the narrow defeat in Belgrade.

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Giovanni van Bronckhorst says that the difference in both teams wasn’t that big after a 4-2 aggregate win over Red Star Belgrade which sees Rangers into the last eight of the Europa League.

“That’s the goal. We’ve managed to do that this year. We’re into the quarter-finals now and we’ve got to have belief as we’ve made it this far already.”

The damage was done in the first leg against Red Star, who only conceded four goals during the group stage as a whole, but Rangers scored four across their last-16 tie – adding to the six they mustered against Borussia Dortmund.

Given their performances so far in the knockout rounds, Rangers are dark horses to emulate their success of reaching the final in 2008.
Ben Grounds

Fofana inspires Leicester into ECL quarters

Image: Wesley Fofana celebrates after scoring for Leicester against Rennes

Wesley Fofana is back. A surprise inclusion in Leicester’s starting XI against Rennes on Thursday night, the 21-year-old – who has been out of action since breaking his leg in August – not only produced a brilliant performance on a hugely testing night but also came up with a wonderful headed goal which proved to be the decisive one in the tie.

The atmosphere at Rennes was off the charts. There were flags, firecrackers, and non-stop singing from the home support, who were urging their team – just a point off second in Ligue 1 – towards a turnaround. On the pitch, the players in red shirts were biting into tackles, tirelessly hounding down their opponents and playing with an intensity to match the atmosphere around the ground.

But Fofana approached the contest in the cool, calm, authoritative manner which saw him hailed as one of the most promising young defenders in Europe last season. It was like he’d never been away, as he kept possession under pressure or eased the pressure heading away set pieces.

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As Leicester reach the quarter-finals of the Europa Conference League, Richie Wellens says that after having not a great season, the team could find comfort from adding a trophy.

  • Rennes 2-1 Leicester (agg 2-3) – Match report
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

He was withdrawn moments after Rennes had made it 2-1, with boss Brendan Rodgers cautious to not overload Fofana on his return from such a serious injury. But the Leicester boss was full of praise for the young defender after the rest of the team had survived the nervous final 15 minutes.

“Fofana is an amazing player,” Rodgers told BT Sport. “That’s what top players do. He’s only been back training a few weeks but [top players] want to go and head it, with the determination, that’s something we’ve missed a lot this season, someone with that mentality and that’s a top player’s mentality.

“He’s such a massive prospect. Now we just need to try to build his fitness up. He was exceptional on the night.”

Leicester have been badly hampered by injuries this season and it is tempting to wonder how much impact the absence of players such as Fofana has had on them this term. But Fofana is back now and the chance to win a European trophy is still alive. And with a player of his quality fit again, Leicester can still make this a season to remember.
Peter Smith

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