After five games in Europe, West Ham found themselves undefeated and guaranteed to qualify as group winners. Zagreb also had qualified but were relishing a chance to travel to the Capital of England and end the group on a winning note.
Off the back of a stunning victory against Chelsea, The Irons are the favourites at 19/20 with Grosvenor Sport while the visitors are 27/10 and a draw is 27/10 too.
Mislav Orsic scored the only goal of the game with a stupendous strike in the third minute, nothing the young players can do to stop that.
David Moyes spoke after the match about the result. He said:
"I don’t know if their goal was a moment of quality or if it was a bit lucky.
We scored a little bit of a lucky goal on Saturday against Chelsea and there was a little bit of a dip on the shot and the ball moved an awful lot, but we should have closed them down much quicker.
I thought it was just really good that the boys came back and we settled after that, and let’s just remember that they’re a decent team and Croatian champions.
They were in the Champions League qualifiers earlier in the season and we were putting out five or six young players against them, so I’ve got to put it in perspective."
A loss for the present, a win for the future
Eight academy graduates made appearances for their club, with debuts for many. Sonny Perkins started up front and a back four made from youth with Harrison Ashby and Emmanuel Longelo as full backs. Aji Alese and Jamal Baptiste started as centre half partners and were so unfortunate to not keep what would of been a well earned clean sheet.
Keenan Forson and Freddie Potts also came on late into the match to make their debuts in what was a magical night for the youngsters. With family in the stands and playing with mates, West Ham had an amazing night and can look forward to the future.
Club Captain Mark Noble was quoted saying:
“I'm incredibly proud of them," I've seen a lot of them grow up since they were eleven years of age and watched them progress through the Academy and into the first team. It's a credit to the Club for the players to have got us into this position where we've topped the group with a game to spare.
"We've got a lot of big games coming up and we've actually picked up a lot of injuries in the last few weeks, so to get our Academy boys - including myself, who is a little bit older than the rest of them! - on is fantastic all-round.
A fantastic European performance in the group stage
With little to no European football in decades, West Ham went into the Europa League with this squad having very little experience. Players such as summer signings Kurt Zouma, fresh off a Champions League win with Chelsea and Nikola Vlasic who has played at the top level became welcome additions. Czech duo Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal have also played Champions League football which was a helping hand for those who have never graced the European turf.
Players such as Declan Rice, Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio, Aaron Cresswell, Said Benrahma and Angelo Ogbonna who were all influential in firing West Ham to sixth got their first taste of European football, and they proved they are at the level to compete at this level. With four wins and finishing top of the group, The Hammers have had a great start to life in Europe.
Credit also must go to David Moyes. He has almost single-handedly brought West Ham from battling relegation, to the last 16 of the Europa League. He was delighted with the group stage and told whufc.com:
"I’ve been thrilled with how we’ve done in Europe. It’s been so good and I really am pleased because I wasn’t sure how it was going to go.
I think now we’re just beginning to get into it and we want to be in European football next season again if we can.
The aim is to try and get better at it as we go along. We know the next round is going to be much more difficult and much harder, but hopefully we’ll be ready come March and we look forward to the next round.
There are some potentially exciting challenges ahead in Europe, but we’ve got an awful lot of football to play before we get to that point.
But it’s exciting and the supporters will be coming here in March against hopefully a good opponent and what we want to do is make the quarter-finals, so that’s the next task."