“It is a strange thing, football. It comes around and you have got to be careful.”
West Ham manager David Moyes sounded that warning to Lyon before their Europa League quarter-final second leg, and he was right to.
Come full-time, the Hammers were celebrating a 3-0 victory that secured the club’s first European semi-final for 46 years and helped banish some of the needle that had built up following the first leg.
Moussa Dembele’s wink after drawing the foul which saw Aaron Cresswell sent off in the first encounter had certainly not gone unnoticed by the West Ham manager or his players.
And neither did a tweet from Lyon’s official account. Responding to a Europa League post asking who would make the final four, they said: “Are you really asking like there’s a chance we don’t go through?”
“Those things come back to bite you,” quipped Declan Rice at full-time.
“There were a few incentives tonight. Dembele winking at the camera in the first leg and then their Twitter admin saying they can’t see how they wouldn’t get through.
“We stayed quiet, put in a performance and now West Ham are in the semis.”
Moyes’ side will face Eintracht Frankfurt, who upset Barcelona, in their first appearance at this stage of a major European competition since overcoming the same opposition in the last four of the 1976 European Cup Winners’ Cup.
“It feels very, very special,” added Rice. “For all the fans it is such a great night. If you can’t get up for these games you shouldn’t be playing football. The roar [from the fans] for the warm up was spine tingling. It gives you a fire in your stomach to go and perform.”
On facing Frankfurt next, he added: “For them to beat Barca, they are a top side. We will be ready for whatever. We know what we want and that is reach the final.”
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Can West Ham go all the way?
West Ham striker Michail Antonio told the Footballer’s Football podcast before Thursday’s match: “I truly believe we will win the Europa League.”
Following Thursday night’s excellent display, that dream is one huge step closer.
The Hammers topped their group and also eliminated another of the competition favourites, Sevilla, to reach this stage.
Now only Frankfurt – who cannot be underestimated after their shock 3-2 win at the Nou Camp – RB Leipzig, and fellow British side Rangers remain in the competition.
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, former Everton midfielder Leon Osman said: “They’ve got a different issue coming up now. Until this point it was a case of let’s see what they can do, let’s enjoy the European trip.
“With Barcelona going out, suddenly this competition has opened up for them. Suddenly it’s a serious trophy that they could win.
“You could potentially even call them favourites at this point. That brings a different kind of pressure. It’s something else they’ve got to now learn to deal with.”
The Hammers have two weeks to prepare for the first leg of their semi-final against Frankfurt, in London, with the away leg taking place one week later.
“This is a performance the whole of Europe will be taking a look at,” added Osman. “These kind of performances can put you on the map.
“If you can go on and win this competition then suddenly players will want to join this team. It’s a team that are progressing, building towards something, and trying to bring European success. It’s a huge statement.”
‘Moyes can’t do any wrong’
It is less than two and a half years since West Ham appointed Moyes for a second spell at the club, but the progress made in that time has been clear.
The Hammers were 17th in the Premier league when Moyes took over in December 2019, but now the club are fighting for European silverware.
Former West Ham player Joe Cole, speaking on BT Sport, said: “It is incredible. It was such a disciplined, strong performance. Everything you need to be a winning team, Moyes has instilled into this team.
“They have a lovely balance between being passionate and keeping cool. Moyes can’t do any wrong. He gets it right all the time, he is at his peak as a manager.
“Football is like a Hollywood film. It’s scripted. It’s Frankfurt again. It’s Mark Noble’s last year. The draw is so much better now for West Ham. It would have been great to go to Barcelona but now people at the club believe they can win this.”
Fellow pundit Carlton Cole said: “Nothing surprises me with the ‘Moyesiah’. How he has pulled this out of the bag – I can’t explain how different this feels.
“Being a West Ham fan you don’t go through these emotions. You could not write this at the start of the season. It is unreal.”
‘One of West Ham’s all-time great performances’ – analysis
BBC Sport’s Simon Stone:
David Moyes’ side have delivered one of the Hammers’ all-time great performances anywhere. The 3-0 success is their biggest ever away win in Europe.
When West Ham moved into the London Stadium in 2016, managing director Karren Brady predicted it would be the start of the club challenging regularly for top honours.
Hammers fans have waited a long time for that promise to be fulfilled and there has been a lot of resentment felt along the way.
But through Moyes – whose journey from dismissal at Manchester United eight years ago has been no less eventful – West Ham are finally matching aspiration.
Another couple of wins and Moyes may achieve in east London what he was sacked at United for missing out on – qualification for the Champions League.
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