Pablo Fornals declared “West Ham are massive” after his sensational goal ended the club’s long wait for a European final, then vowed to top it as the best moment of his Irons career by bringing the trophy home from Prague next month.
The Hammers are through to the Europa Conference League showpiece, where they will face Fiorentina on June 7, after Fornals’ stoppage-time goal sealed a 3-1 aggregate victory over AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands on Thursday night.
Leading 2-1 from last week’s home leg in London, David Moyes’s side took a slender advantage to AFAS Stadion but a fine defensive display and then Fornals’ 94th-minute solo effort off the bench ensured they will play in a major European final for the first time since losing to Anderlecht in the Cup Winners’ Cup way back in 1976.
“It’s unbelievable really, I’m really happy for the club because it was a long time without the club being in this situation,” an emotional Fornals said at full-time, before borrowing the refrain that has been the soundtrack to the club’s European adventure over the past two seasons.
“Thank you for the [fans] who came here, they’re massive everywhere they go! We know already they’ll be in Prague as well because that’s what West Ham supporters do, they’re always behind us.”
The final will be West Ham’s first in any competition since the 2006 FA Cup defeat by Liverpool and the first of Fornals’ senior club career, the Spaniard hoping to end his fourth season at the London Stadium with silverware having signed from Villarreal back in 2019.
The 27-year-old was sent on as a replacement for Said Benrahma 15 minutes from time with the Hammers preparing for a late Alkmaar bombardment that never came. After nutmegging one defender, Fornals then drove smartly beyond Mat Ryan from 20 yards to clinch the tie.
“Hopefully not!” Fornals smiled, when asked whether his strike was the high point of his time in east London. "Hopefully, there are more to come. It’s going to be the first final I’ve played for a club so it’s massive for me, massive for the lads, massive for the club. That’s how happy we are for this night.”
Fiorentina lie in wait next, with the Italian side, who are currently eighth in Serie A, having fought back from a 2-1 first-leg deficit to eventually beat FC Basel on penalties in Switzerland in Thursday night’s other semi-final.
"Of course, just to have the chance to play the final is very good but after this complicated season, if we can bring the cup to east London it will be even better,” Fornals added. “That’s what we’re going to try to do.”