ACF Fiorentina 1-2 West Ham United
UEFA Europa Conference League final, Eden Aréna, Prague, Czechia, Wednesday 7 June 2023, 9pm CEST (8pm BST)
1964. 1965. 1975. 1980.
And now 2023!
It has been 43 long years since West Ham United last lifted major silverware but that wait has now come to the most sensational of ends, in the most spine-tingling of manners.
Every single final has its hero. And, after Saïd Benrahma’s penalty on 62 minutes had been cancelled out by Giacomo Bonaventura’s well-taken finish just five minutes later, it would be Jarrod Bowen who would write his name into Hammers history forevermore.
The forward made no mistake when it mattered most, latching onto Paquetá's clever pass through the ACF Fiorentina defence and smartly striking, sending not just the thousands of West Ham fans in the Eden Aréna into pure elation, but the millions around the world.
A raucous atmosphere greeted both sides at the Eden Arena as the pre-match rituals were observed. A quick huddle, led by captain Declan Rice, was a final word of motivation for the Hammers before Fiorentina got the 2023 final underway
An early indicator of the match’s script presented itself in the opening minute. Fiorentina looked to control possession but the Irons sought to hit on the counter, and almost did as Michail Antonio cut inside and fired low into Pietro Terracciano’s arms.
The designated home side dominated the ball throughout the first half and sought to win easy fouls, before Rolando Mandragora attempted a long-distance effort, which was well wide of Alphonse Areola’s goal.
Captain Rice registered a near-miss on 13 minutes. Vladimír Coufal’s throw-in was met by Zouma, who turned the ball back towards the midfielder on the edge of the box. There, Rice sweetly struck on the bounce, only for his effort to fall narrowly wide.
La Viola had the first corner of the encounter, which captain Cristiano Biraghi whipped in for Nikola Milenković to head over. Moments later, only an insanely good tackle from Nayef Aguerd denied Nicolás González from troubling Areola.
A splendid cross by Coufal would find international compatriot Soucek at the back stick, with the towering midfielder unselfishly looking to set up an on-rushing teammate. Bowen was closest but could not reach the ball in time.
As four minutes of added time were announced, Fiorentina thought they had taken the advantage.
Luka Jović put the ball in the net, heading in after an initial header from Christian Kouamé struck the post, but the assistant referee's flag had been raised for offside against the striker. The first VAR check of the evening confirmed a stalemate at the interval.
Fiorentina opted for a change up front at half-time as Arthur Cabral came on for Jovic, but the first chance of the second half fell for Benrahma; the Algerian curling an effort goalward that won the Irons a corner.
The Italian side continued to hold the majority of the ball, but a West Ham side with renewed impetus looked to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. A long ball forward was chested down by Bowen and connected with Biraghi's hand, taking the ball away from the England attacker.
A lengthy VAR check followed. Replays showed the transgression and Spanish referee Carlos del Cerro Grande pointed to the penalty spot. Up stepped Benrahma and, for the 12th time this season, the Algerian found the net, sending the Claret and Blue Army inside the Eden Arena into delirium.
In such a tightly-contested game, there was hope that only one goal would be enough to secure silverware. But Fiorentina would level four minutes later.
Credit should be directed towards the Italian team’s goalscorer for his finish. Giacomo Bonaventura had a lot to do from González’s knock-down but the midfielder took a touch and guided a low finish through the small gap left in the West Ham defence. The ball eluded Areola and pulled Fiorentina level.
Having traded blows, the game felt more open than ever as the minutes ticked away. Mandragora placed one wide for the Viola before Souček saw a creative header instinctively denied by Terracciano.
There was still one moment of magic in the game.
As the 90 minutes ticked into five minutes of added time, Paquetá’s pinpoint pass through the Fiorentina defence found Bowen’s run. The forward was away from his man and clinically struck, bouncing the ball over the oncoming Terracciano and into the empty net.
Scenes of almost disbelieving euphoria followed in the instant moments after. Fiorentina were stunned. Added time past without incident and the final whistle blew.
West Ham United. 2023 UEFA Europa Conference League champions!
ACF Fiorentina: Terracciano, Dodô, Milenković, Ranieri (Igor 84), Biraghi ©, Bonaventura, Amrabat, Mandragora, González, Jović (Cabral 46), Kouamé (Saponara 62)
Subs not used: Cerofolini (GK), Ikoné, Terzić, Venuti, Martinez Quarta, Duncan, Bianco, Barak, Brekalo
Goal: Bonaventura 67
Booked: Mandragora, Duncan, Milenković, Amrabat
West Ham United: Areola, Coufal, Zouma (Kehrer 61), Aguerd, Emerson, Souček, Rice ©, Paquetá, Bowen, Benrahma (Fornals 76), Antonio (Ogbonna 90+3)
Subs not used: Fabiański (GK), Johnson, Cresswell, Downes, Potts, Lanzini, Cornet, Mubama, Ings
Goals: Benrahma (p) 62, Bowen 90+1
Booked: Benrahma, Aguerd, Cresswell, Bowen
Referee: Carlos del Cerro Grande (Spain)