West Ham United is playing in Europe for the first time in five years. The English club played in the competition last when they were led by Slaven Bilić and were shockingly knocked out in the play-offs by Romanian club Astra Giurgiu, reports 24 Sata.
West Ham is in the group stage of the competition for the first time thanks to finishing sixth place in the Premier League last season.
And their first stop? Croatia.
Dinamo, their first group stage opponent, plays in the Europa League group stage for the 14th time in the last 15 seasons.
Nikola Vlašić (23) will once again play against Dinamo in the Europa League group stage. Recall, Vlašić met Dinamo when playing with CSKA Moscow last season and lost at Maksimir. He made his West Ham debut in the draw against Southampton last weekend (0-0).
Spaniard Pablo Fornals (25) knows it won’t be easy, even though the Hammers are favorites for bookmakers (odds 2.25 at West Ham and 3.10 at Dinamo).
“We are playing away. It will be a new experience for all of us, and I hope that we will make all West Ham fans proud,” Fornals said for the official West Ham website.
Coach David Moyes has hinted that striker Michail Antonio, who is excluded from the league game and has no right to play against Manchester United at the weekend, will play in Zagreb.
“Will I try other options? He can’t play against United, and you can look at it in several ways. I don’t want Mic to be without a game for a few weeks, he played a little for the national team, but I will think about it,” said Moyes.
Dinamo captain Arijan Ademi (30), the club’s record holder with 87 appearances in UEFA competitions, does not believe that it will be a one-way street.
“With a full stadium, with our fans, with their great support, we can repeat Tottenham. Clearly, I am an optimist; what an athlete I would be if I were not an optimist. We believed then that we could get past the Spurs, and that faith brought us that result,” said the captain and continued:
“I appeal to our fans to give us the support they know against West Ham. It means a lot to us on the field; fan support is a big motivator. The louder our fans are, the higher our percentage for success. So I hope they will fill Maksimir.”
The match starts at 18.45 on Thursday and will be refereed by Frenchman Ruddy Buquet (44), who refereed Dinamo in their victory against Ferencvaros in Budapest in 2019 (4-0) and was the fourth referee against Neftči in Zagreb in 2011 (3-0). He also refereed the Croatia national team in a draw against Azerbaijan in 2015 (0-0) and victory in Finland in 2016 (1-0).
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