West Ham and Fiorentina will seek to earn a long-awaited addition to their trophy case as they clash in the Europa Conference League final in Prague on Wednesday.
Both clubs’ European trophies have become genuine antiques by now as Fiorentina won the now-defunct Cup Winners’ Cup in 1961, while West Ham dominated the same competition in 1965.
The winner in the Czech capital will secure a place in next season’s Europa League, a thrilling prospect for both teams who have failed to qualify for a European competition from their leagues.
West Ham, led by midfield engine Declan Rice, finished 14th in the Premiership after battling the threat of relegation for much of the season. They will be seeking their first major trophy since winning the FA Cup in 1980.
Fiorentina, eighth in Serie A, took the last major honours in 2001 when they won the Italian Cup.
Both teams have made it very clear they are determined to become the second name on the Conference League trophy following Roma, who won the maiden edition last year.
“This will be the pinnacle for a lot of players. It will certainly be the biggest game of my career,” West Ham winger Jarrod Bowen told the club website.
“The main priority is to win the game… I want to be part of the squad that gives the fans that moment and that’s what we’re all striving to do,” he added.
Fiorentina manager Vincenzo Italiano said the Viola wanted to “put the icing on the cake” in Prague following an “extraordinary season”.
“Personally, I’m very happy to be in a final and to have the chance to lift a trophy,” said Italiano, whose team lost the Italian Cup final to Inter Milan last month.
But he knows the East Londoners, who reached the Europa League semi-finals last year, will be a hard nut to crack.
“Even if they haven’t done very well in the Premier League, they are still a very dangerous team.”
“We will need the utmost commitment. We will play like Fiorentina,” Italiano said.
Italiano and West Ham manager David Moyes have nearly full squads at their disposal apart from long-term injury absences such as Fiorentina goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu and West Ham striker Gianluca Scamacca.
‘Like a fairytale’
The game at Prague’s Eden Arena will have special meaning for three Czech players — West Ham’s Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal and Fiorentina’s Antonin Barak.
All three played for Slavia Prague at the Eden Arena before moving abroad, and they have relished the opportunity to come back home.
“This is a final and at home. It’s a combination that beats everything,” Soucek told the Czech news agency CTK, hailing the final as “the biggest game of my career”.
“It’s like a fairytale,” added the 28-year-old midfielder, whose early career was at Slavia Prague.
West Ham will get the home side’s dressing room, and more than 5,000 of the team’s fans will occupy the home stands at the compact Eden venue, which has a total capacity of 18,000 for the game.
“I will feel at home and I only hope I will show it on the pitch,” Soucek said.
Prague will open fan zones with large screens for each team in the city centre.
They will accommodate fans who will travel to the Czech Republic but do not have tickets, and serve as meeting points for those travelling to the stadium.
Hundreds of police will be deployed to prevent violence between supporters, following clashes between West Ham and Alkmaar fans in both legs of their semi-final.
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