West Ham Sevilla: Andriy Yarmolenko sends Europa League giants crashing out at raucous London Stadium

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LONDON – The biggest night West Ham have seen since moving to the London Stadium? Certainly. The best? Undoubtedly. Well … so far.

Tomas Soucek and, for the second time in a few days, Andriy Yarmolenko were the scorers in Thursday’s 2-0 extra time win over Sevilla that saw the Hammers advance to the Europa League quarterfinals, but this was a team effort on and off the pitch . Sevilla, kings of the Europa League, robbed of the seventh heaven that would have come from lifting this trophy in their own ground. Might it just be West Ham celebrating in the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan come May? They certainly have quite the secret weapon to get them through the next two rounds.

From that first cry of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” to nearly 60,000 bouncing as they celebrated Yarmolenko’s winner, this was a night unlike any at the London Stadium, once decried as a home unfit for this team. Tonight it was a fortress .. David Moyes had challenged his supporters to “get used to” big nights like Thursday. They were seasoned veterans; the 12th, 13th and 14th men to aid 11 excellent performers on the pitch.

From the outset West Ham took the tie to this competition’s great power. Michail Antonio showed no sign he had needed a late fitness, imposing himself on Jules Kounde and Nemanja Gudelj. Behind him Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals and Said Benrahma schemed menacingly. The hosts had forced Sevilla back towards the box but still the Hammers’ playmakers spotted passes.

A flick over the top by Lanzini and Fornals was in behind, Gudelj getting across just in time. Soon after it would be Benrahma unlocking the defense. As the London Stadium cried en masse for him to shoot the Algerian lulled Sevilla into thinking he would do exactly that before fizzing a reverse pass into Antonio’s path. Yassine Bounou and Kounde did just enough to hurry West Ham’s No. 9 before Gudelj beat Soucek to the rebound.

Those two would soon make amendments. Finding his path to goal blocked by three Sevilla defenders Antonio charged down the left, hanging a cross up to the back post where Soucek did what Soucek does, rising high above Ludwig Augustinsson for yet another headed goal. The sheer propulsive power of almost 60,000 fans erupting in jubilance would disabuse anyone of the notion that this is just a soulless athletics stadium next to a shopping center. This was nirvana in claret and blue.

West Ham did not stop there. Moyes’ side did not get swept up in the atmosphere, they showed a composure that was (understandably) not reflected in the stands, working towards the best shooting positions for themselves. Lanzini should have made the most of one of those, thundering a shot straight at Bounou from close range.

Any fans of British soap operas will know that London’s East End delivers more than its fair share of iconic villains. Tonight one could be forgiven for wondering if Clement Turpin was determined to cast himself in that role with a performance that went beyond officious into the realms of pedantry.

No contact was too delicate to keep him from blowing his whistle and it did not take long for Sevilla to cotton on. Either that or Declan Rice applied the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique when he grazed Jesus Corona’s back just outside the West Ham penalty area. Michail Antonio, meanwhile, conceded a free kick by running with a football at his feet.

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Of course Sevilla did not become six-time Europa League champions just because they know how to work the officials. Even on the back foot they posed a real threat and only a remarkable save from Alphonse Areola denied Youssef En-Nesyri just before the half hour mark. Moving across to his right the Hammers’ back-up goalkeeper looked to have been outfoxed by a fearsomely struck effort in the direction from which he came but an instinctive right glove was powerful enough to parry the ball to safety.

Corona spooned a volley over in the 70th minute, one of precious few opportunities for Sevilla. Even the veteran Ivan Rakitic could not get a grip on this game and he was sacrificed early in the second half to save him the ignominy of being run past by Rice again. But the visitors were at least stemming the tide, quelling the crowd by possessing the ball high up the pitch and making West Ham use up their reserves of energy.

It took until the 88th minute for Moyes to freshen his side up from a bench light on game changers, Yarmolenko replacing Benrahma as the tie moved inexorably towards extra time. That brought no let up for the La Liga side, Craig Dawson flicking on a corner to Soucek at the back post. His header flicked into the side netting. Seconds later a Rice interception nearly landed at Antonio’s feet.

Tired legs and tired minds began to show. You could convince yourself it was not coming, that there were too many near misses and that this was going to end in the lottery of a penalty shootout. But then space opened up outside the box for Fornals, his shot bending towards Bounou’s far corner. All the goalkeeper could do was parry the ball into the path of Yarmolenko.

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