West Ham meet Fiorentina in Prague on Wednesday night looking to win a first European trophy since the UEFA Intertoto Cup back in 1999.
Many Hammers fans will never have seen their team play in such a high-stakes match; the last final they were involved in was the 2006 FA Cup final which ended in defeat to Liverpool.
Two teams out for rare European glory
As we are all tired of hearing , West Ham’s success in Europe has been limited to the Intertoto Cup and a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1965.
Likewise, Fiorentina have waited a long time to return to such a big stage, with their only European silverware in their history the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1961.
The Serie A side perhaps have more pedigree domestically having won two Serie A titles and six Coppa Italias, but none of those have come recently and they are some way behind the likes of Napoli, Juventus and the two Milan clubs as a force in Italy. For West Ham, the focus has been on the Conference League for some time now after safety was secured in the Premier League.
A disappointing season could quickly turn into a memorable one if David Moyes and his players come out on top in Prague. Fiorentina, too, have been able to prioritise their passage to the final after a steady but unspectacular mid-table finish in Serie A. If the importance of the Conference League is still not clear, this final should emphasise how much it means to both clubs.
Rice to bow out on a high?
With speculation surrounding Declan Rice’s future at an all-time high amid rumours of a summer move, this could well be the West Ham captain’s last game in claret and blue. Still only 24 and an established England international, Rice’s future will be at the very highest level.
But he will be determined to end with glory rather than heartbreak if he is to move on after almost a decade with the Hammers. He has developed into one of the most consistent performers in the Premier League and his performances in the Conference League have been typically excellent too.
“My main focus is playing for West Ham and winning this final,” Rice said. “My heart’s set on that, doing it for the club, for my family, for the fans and that’s my only focus. I want to make them all very happy and my focus is on doing that.”
Europa League football on the line
The prize for victory on Wednesday night is much more than just a trophy.
West Ham or Fiorentina will play in the Europa League next season, a significant carrot as both weren’t close to qualifying for the competition in their respective leagues. Both teams will have ambitions of going far in the Europa League if they qualify, as did last season’s Conference League winners Roma. With that added element, the significance of this final is heightened for both clubs.
The bookmakers are finding it hard to split the two teams , with West Ham marginal favourites.