West Ham’s chances of reaching a first European final for 46 years hang in the balance after they lost 2-1 to Eintracht Frankfurt in Thursday’s Europa League semi-final first leg at the London Stadium.
Eintracht Frankfurt wing-back Ansgar Knauff headed the visitors in front after 50 seconds, but Michail Antonio’s close-range finish (21) brought West Ham level.
The German side – who sit ninth in the Bundesliga – regained the lead in the second half through Daichi Kamada (54) to secure just their second win in nine games and extend their unbeaten run in the competition to 10 games.
The two sides will meet for the second leg in Frankfurt next Thursday, with the winner playing either RB Leipzig or Rangers in the final on May 18 in Seville.
How Frankfurt overcame the Hammers
It was a nightmare start for West Ham at the London Stadium as Knauff headed in Rafael Borre’s cross at the back post after some slack defending by Pablo Fornals to give Frankfurt the lead inside the first minute.
Jarrod Bowen was presented with a gilt-edged opportunity to bring West Ham level after 14 minutes, but struck the post after being played through on goal by Tomas Soucek.
West Ham, though, did not have to wait long for another opportunity as Kurt Zouma nodded down a free-kick to Antonio, who poked the ball home to level the tie to the delight of an electric home crowd.
It ended a run of 10 games without a goal for the striker, who last scored in West Ham’s 3-1 defeat at Southampton in the FA Cup on March 2.
Frankfurt continued to pose a threat on the break and nearly went ahead through Knauff again, only for the Frankfurt wing-back to rush his finish and fire over from inside the area after a half clearance by Aaron Cresswell.
Knauff, on loan from Borussia Dortmund, was given plenty of licence to get forward and caused West Ham a lot of problems as Frankfurt overloaded the home side’s left-hand side.
“It’s not the first time Knauff has scored from the far post,” Frankfurt head coach Oliver Glasner said after the game. “We wanted these runs and we also knew West Ham are sometimes a bit passive around their box.”
West Ham were slow out of the blocks after the break – as they were at the start – and were made to pay by Frankfurt, who sit ninth in the Bundesliga, after a neat passage of play which saw Kamada sweep in the rebound after a fine Alphonse Areola save to deny Djibril Sow from close-range.
Substitute Said Benrahma almost made an instant impact as his long-range effort brushed an upright, but he was less impressive 15 minutes later as he fired high and wide from inside the area.
A vital block from Craig Dawson ensured Kamada’s effort struck the post – denying him his second – and prevented Frankfurt from going two goals ahead, and making next week’s task that much harder.
But the home side came close to a second, late equaliser, Bowen’s sensational bicycle kick striking the crossbar and cannoning out.
Moyes: We didn’t deserve to get a result
West Ham boss David Moyes speaking to BT Sport:
“Not what we wanted – we didn’t play well enough to get a result tonight but it’s still there, it’s not gone. We’ll go to the second leg probably not fancied and do what we can to still make it.
“I didn’t change too much [after first goal], I thought we deserved to get back in the game and if we had showed enough quality in the final third we might’ve got back in front but we didn’t. Started slow in second half and gave away a poor goal for the second.
“I think we missed an awful lot of opportunities to create chances, we should’ve made more, we had chances to cross the ball better and didn’t take them, we missed big chances in the box. We made some chances and had one or two efforts, we’ll have to make more next week.”
‘We were lucky from their bicycle kick’ – Frankfurt boss
Eintracht Frankfurt head coach Oliver Glasner:
“I am very impressed by the lads, how they played, how they took the lead in the first minute.
“It’s just impressive, the confidence they showed. West Ham threatened then, but we did well defending the set-pieces.
“Leading after the first leg is always good, even though we were a little bit lucky from their bicycle kick. The lads did so well, they positioned well against their very physical defence and Borre moved well between the lines, so we evaded their man marking.”
West Ham need more second-leg heroics
West Ham like to do things the hard way in Europe. They’ve been here before, leaving themselves needing a win against Sevilla and Lyon in the second leg to progress on their way to the semi-final stage.
That resilience and character will be crucial if they are to do it in Germany next Thursday.
Eintracht Frankfurt, though, will make life extremely difficult for David Moyes’ side and taking a one-goal advantage into the second leg perfectly suits their counter-attacking approach which caused the Hammers so many problems on Thursday night.
They also have a record of their own: Frankfurt have advanced to the next round on the last 10 occasions in which they have won the first leg in Europe.
But there is belief in this West Ham squad that, despite struggling to meet the level required at the London Stadium on Thursday, they can produce more second-leg heroics to keep their Europa League dream alive.
“We’ve been in this situation before with Sevilla,” said goalscorer Antonio. “One thing for us is no matter where we go, we believe we can beat anybody. We’re going to go there and try to win.”
The occasion seemed to get the better of West Ham on Thursday night. They’ll need to cope better next Thursday with what is certain to be a hostile environment in Frankfurt. The stakes are that much higher this time, though.
As Tomas Soucek put it after Thursday’s defeat: “For some players the second leg will be the biggest game in their lives.”
West Ham will continue their bid for a European spot next season when they face Arsenal this Sunday. The game will be live on Sky Sports Premier League at 4.30pm
Eintracht Frankfurt also have European hopes to fight for when they return to the Bundesliga to face Bayer Leverkusen on Monday.