Eintracht Frankfurt are on their way to the Europa League final, after a combative victory against West Ham United which included two red cards.
There was a time when a football team nearly stumbled onto the field before a game wearing track tops two sizes too small for them, each carrying a semi-inflated leather ball that they pounded onto the field as they walked out of the field. ‘a dark, narrow tunnel while a creaky old sound system played oopmah nonsense through speakers that appeared to be held upside down in a fishbowl. Those days are long gone. The teams took to the pitch at Deutsche Bank Park for the second leg of the Europa League semi-final between Eintracht Frankfurt and West Ham United in an extraordinary wall of light and noise, an atmosphere that cannot do not were at least slightly intimidating to enter.
For both clubs, it was an important match in itself. Both have a certain European pedigree – West Ham won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1965, Eintracht Frankfurt won the UEFA Cup in 1980 – and in 1976 they faced each other in the European Cup semi-finals. European Cup winners. And these are two big clubs with relatively short-stocked trophy cabinets. Throughout their history, West Ham have three FA Cups to their name, while Eintracht Frankfurt have one league title and five DFB-Pokals (German Cups) to them. When those days are rare – and West Ham haven’t won a major trophy for 42 years, while Eintracht Frankfurt have won one since 1988 – then that trophy means more than anything in the world.
Those two days hadn’t been particularly happy for West Ham fans themselves. A group was attacked by hooligans in the city two nights before the match, and further arrests were made after clashes in the city center during the afternoon of the match itself. And after their side got off to a reasonably encouraging start – Eintracht had only won one Europa League home game and drawn everything else, and there’s no reason why their own players were not slightly put off by such fearsome pyrotechnics themselves – everything started to crumble in the 19th minute.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Against Lyon in the quarter-final first leg at the London Stadium, Aaron Cresswell was sent off for pushing back a defender when he was the last man to pull back. By definition, if it was a foul (and there was talk of a foul in the build-up, but that has nothing to do with the player’s subsequent actions), it had to be a Red card. Against Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-final second leg at Deutsche Bank Park, Aaron Cresswell was sent off for pushing back a defender when he was the last man to return. By definition, if it was a foul (and it was said that it might not be the case, but there’s no denying that he got his hands on his opponent), it had to be a Red card.
The referee initially gave it as a yellow card, only for the game to be removed by the video assistant, and as we all already know, this almost always leads to a card color upgrade. It was the moment, a very sharp line in the sand where it looked like West Ham’s European adventure was now going to crumble. It wasn’t as if they didn’t already have enough to do. Lose the first leg at home meant having to win in front of fifty thousand very loud and very passionate Germans, and losing a man so early in the second leg seemed like a step too far. Sure enough, seven minutes later Ansgar Knauff crossed, Santos Borre scored and it looked like the template was finally in place.
Well, not quite. The first glimmers of life came a minute from half-time, when Kurt Zouma had a header cleared from the line by Ndicka, and just after the second half’s midpoint, Eintracht had to scramble the ball after a low cross from Michail Antonio. was handed over by goaltender Kevin Trapp. Saïd Benrahma had a call for handball dismissed. Rather than blaze, West Ham’s ten remaining players put up a bit of a fight, and that even extended to the benches, when David Moyes was sent off to join Cresswell in the dressing room – ‘Okay blunder? Did you leave your phone here? – after an explosion that got him kicked… something.
And if this becomes an open season for Aaron Cresswell because of his momentary lapse(s) of sanity, then Moyes should also be criticized. Not only is he frankly old enough to know better, but the set-to and red card also fundamentally disrupted his team’s rhythm due to a slow build-up of pressure that had built up over the five or ten minutes. previous ones. It was a rhythm that West Ham couldn’t quite pick up after the delay and it wasn’t like the last few minutes until they started to get back into the game, their chances finally seeming to fade and die for the last time in the 90th minute, when Tomas Soucek headed wide wide from a corner.
While the five minutes of stoppage time passed without significant incident, something unusual happened behind the goal, when the gates appeared to be open to allow hundreds of home fans to stand immediately behind the goal. Seconds later, the crowd disseminated in the field, only to be pushed back by German police, who formed a line ten yards inside the far half of the pitch, presumably to avoid confrontation with West Ham supporters. The worst of all problems inside the stadium seemed to have been avoided, but whether the evening night passes peacefully outside is another matter.
In a world of football that can sometimes feel hampered by a dwindling number of clubs, the Europa League is a timely reminder of the biodiversity of European club football. It’s not the same half-dozen clubs that work their way through the field to the point where they start to topple over. And there was no question how much this match meant for the two teams involved. From the pre-match march on the London Stadium before the first leg to the pyrotechnics and invasion of the second leg, Eintracht Frankfurt’s desire was clear and obvious.
For West Ham, there is only disappointment at the end of their European adventure, and the feeling that things could have been different if it had not been for that first stroke of blood to the head. The Europa League gave the club an identity at the London stadium, and it was an adventure to get there. But at night, fortune ends up hiding from them; light and noise finally prevailed.