David Moyes says the work done over last two years at West Ham is “huge” after they reached the Europa League semi-finals while Declan Rice pointed to “incentives” that spurred the side to victory.
The Hammers beat Lyon 3-0 in their Europa League quarter-final second leg in France, winning the tie 4-1 on aggregate to set up a final four meeting with Eintracht Frankfurt.
It marks a continuation of some remarkable form over the last few years, where Moyes has taken West Ham from the brink of Premier League relegation to their first European semi-final since 1976.
He told BT Sports: “I’m immensely proud of the players and the performance and probably more so, when you look back, of the performance in the second-half at the London Stadium last week when we were down to 10 men, which looked a really poor decision.
“The players stuck at it, never gave up, got a goal in front before we conceded. I don’t think anyone, when they were putting questions to me earlier, thought we were going to make it tonight.
“We have a really great group of lads, I’m lucky. They have been great in the time I have been here and the journey in two years from trying to avoid relegation and now we are talking about getting to the semi-final of a major European tournament. It is fabulous and we are all going to look forward to it.
“It is huge what we have done in two years. We have not won any trophies yet but we are trying to compete and to qualify for European football again, if we can.
“To be getting to these latter stages, we have beaten Seville and Lyon now since getting through the group stages, big clubs that are used to European football.
“But we go again, you don’t win anything for tonight but it was a big moment for us. Winning 3-0 away from home in Europe – a really good result.”
When asked if West Ham could now be considered the tournament favorites – especially after their semi-final opponents Frankfurt knocked Barcelona out of the running – Moyes replied: “We’re not favourites, but I want the players to think that they are.
“I want the players to create self belief… and I thought with the form we were in at the start of the season, I would’ve taken on anybody on at that time.
“But the season changes, we have injuries and tonight, we had a makeshift backline. Three boys who would be considered to start weren’t starting tonight.
“It was a great squad ethic and performance from them all that we could come here and get a result.”
Rice: A very special evening | ‘We had incentives to win’
West Ham captain Declan Rice was among the scorers on Thursday evening, sweeping home six minutes after Craig Dawson’s headed opener.
Jarrod Bowen added West Ham’s third shortly after the break to secure their spot in the Europa League final four.
“It’s special. Very, very special,” Rice told BT Sports. “We knew it was a tough place to come, we knew they had top individual quality, but we knew with what we had on the pitch, our attacking players and what we had seen in the first game with them defensively, we knew we could score goals tonight.
“If you can’t get up for these games then you shouldn’t be playing football. The roar from the warm-up, it was spine-tingling and it gives you that fire in your stomach to go out there and perform.
“There were a few incentives for us. Dembele winning at the camera in the first leg then their Twitter admins were saying they don’t know how they are not going to get through, but those things come back to bite you.
“We stayed quiet, put in a performance and now West Ham are in the semis… For all the fans, it is such a great night.”
Rice and his team-mates will not be taking their next opponents lightly either, with Rice adding: “For Frankfurt to beat Barca, they are a top side, you can’t overlook that. Whether it was a poor night from Barca, you ‘ve still got to score three against them.
“We will be ready for whatever. Two games again but we know what we want – to reach the final and we’ll give it everything.”
The perfect away performance from West Ham
Sky Sports’ Charlotte Marsh:
“Ahead of any quarter-final second leg in Europe, there will be nerves. But perhaps the pressure was heightened a little given West Ham went into the game with five successive away defeats in all competitions, and made three changes to their defensive line- up from the first leg.
“But it proved to be that there was little to be concerned about as West Ham produced the perfect away performance to secure their place in the Europa League’s final four.
“Despite the defensive changes, West Ham were there at every juncture to stop a talented Lyon attack that includes Moussa Dembele, Houssem Aouar and Karl Toko Ekambi. Even when they were at their best inside the opening half an hour, the Hammers stood up to every task.
“Perhaps one of Lyon’s errors was trying to use the ball aerially too often. West Ham have some tall players in their ranks and won most of those battles in the air, even without the presence of Kurt Zouma to boost them further.
“At the other end, they took advantage of Lyon’s own defensive shortcomings to devastating effect – all three of the scorers were unmarked for their goals.
“Craig Dawson was ahead of Dembele, Declan Rice had plenty of space at the top of the area to shape his shot and Jarrod Bowen’s run was not tracked, or not until it was too late by Castello Lukeba.
“On all three occasions, West Ham took full advantage. West Ham had fewer shots, but more on target. Fourteen of Lyon’s 17 shots were off-target or blocked, further demonstrating how well David Moyes’ side defended.
“Then there was the simple things – West Ham simply wanted it more. Not since 1976 have they reached a European semi-final and at the end of every tie, you see how much reaching the next stage means to them.
“It could be a Hollywood ending for Mark Noble, with one of his final games potentially being the Europa League final in Seville on May 18. A winning goal in extra-time? Stranger things have happened.”