After a thrilling year of football in the second edition of the UEFA Europa Conference League, Fiorentina and West Ham have made it to this year’s final. While the sides have never met in Europe before, this encounter promises to be an enticing one.
A second European trophy for both clubs, plus a place in the UEFA Europa League group stage next fall, is on the line. Here is a look at both clubs’ road to the final, their domestic situation, past meetings and a prediction for the final.
Previous European trophies: UEFA Cup Winners Cup (1960/61)
Record in Europe this season: 11-2-3
Current domestic position (cup finish): 8th (lost in final)
Entering the 2022/23 season, there were high expectations and belief from Fiorentina. Following a seventh place finish last campaign and a return to European football after five seasons away, there was ambition to finish even higher in the league, plus challenge for the UECL trophy. Inconsistency across the season, particularly in the league, ultimately cost La Viola . Yet, they will contest in their second final in the space of a fortnight.
Commencing their European season in the playoff round of the Conference League, they edged Dutch side Twente 2-1 on aggregate. Drawn in a group with Istanbul Basaksehir, Hearts and Rigas FS, Vincenzo Italiano’s team failed to win either of their first two games, the second being a 3-0 thumping in Turkey. Despite storming back to prevail in their final four games of the group, Basaksehir took top spot on head-to-head goal difference.
That resulted in Fiorentina taking part in the knockout round playoffs. A pair of impressive wins over Sporting Braga continued with two more wins in the round of 16 over Sivasspor. In the quarterfinals, the Italian side seemed to be in cruise control against Lech Poznań, but nearly threw away the tie in the second leg. However, two late goals would be enough to progress. In the semifinals, they came from behind against Basel, with a 129th minute goal sending the Florence-based side to Prague.
While Fiorentina looked solid throughout their UECL campaign, they were very inconsistent in Serie A, especially in the first half of the season. The first half of the league term saw Fiorentina lose eight times, which included a stretch of just one win in 10. Things picked up in the second half though, as the Viola lost just two of their final 16 games, winning three of their final four. While they finished just outside of the European places, they did reach the Coppa Italia final after strong displays. They lost 2-1 to Internazionale despite taking the lead after just three minutes.
As a result of reaching the Europa Conference League final, Fiorentina has become the first team to partake in the final of all of UEFA’s club competitions (European Cup/Champions League, Cup Winners Cup, UEFA Cup/Europa League, Europa Conference League). Their only continental triumph came back in 1960/61 — a first continental success for an Italian side — when they defeated Rangers 4-1 over two legs in the inaugural Cup Winners Cup. La Viola was also the first Italian team to reach a European final (1956/57), losing to Real Madrid.
Previous European trophies: UEFA Cup Winners Cup (1964/65)
Record in Europe this season: 13-1-0
Current domestic position (cup finishes): 14th (lost in fifth round of cup, third round of league cup)
After back-to-back top seven finishes in the Premier League, West Ham disappointed throughout their domestic campaign. Yet, that has partially been overshadowed by a stellar run to Prague, which has only seen the Irons fail to win once en route to the final. Victory on Wednesday night will at least end the season on a high note, especially after excelling throughout the Europa Conference League this term.
Like their opponents in the final, West Ham started off in the playoff round. Danish outfit Viborg was no match to David Moyes’ side, who swept them aside. In the group phase, West Ham was pitted against FCSB, Anderlecht and another Danish club in Silkeborg. Once more, there was just no stopping West Ham, as the East Londoners finished a perfect 6-0-0 in their group, the first team to complete such a feat in the Conference League.
Skipping the knockout playoffs by virtue of their group win, West Ham faced Cypriot opposition in AEK Larnaca in the last 16. A 6-0 aggregate win set up a quarterfinal with Gent, the first team the Hammers ever faced in Europe back in 1964/65. After getting a draw in Belgium, West Ham returned to winning ways in the second leg, topping the Belgians 4-1 at home. In the semifinals, they faced a tricky AZ Alkmaar team. Yet, not even the Dutch regulars could prevail against the English club, as West Ham won 2-1 in each leg to make a third European showpiece.
As mentioned, West Ham has had a dismal Premier League campaign. Spending much of the year in a relegation scrap, the Irons managed to claw their way out with a few games to spare. Four wins in eight before the final stretch did the trick, as West Ham finished 14th. Their FA Cup showing was better, as they reached the round of 16 there. As for the League Cup, the Londoners fell in the third round — their entry point — to Blackburn Rovers.
This just their 10th European season, West Ham has reached a third European final and a first since 1975/76. Both of their previous continental finals came in the now-defunct Cup Winners Cup. Their success came in 1964/65, defeating 1860 Munich in their maiden season in Europe. Eleven years on, they fell to Anderlecht in Belgium. This is West Ham’s fifth European campaign which has seen them reach at least the semifinal. A year ago, they lost to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League semifinals, the Germans going on to win that competition.
Other match facts
This is the 10th time that an Italian side and an English club will meet in a European final. This includes the European Cup/Champions League, Cup Winners Cup, and Super Cup (it has never happened in the UEFA Cup/Europa League). The Italian team has come out on top in six of the nine previous finals.
The last time an Italian side prevailed against an English club in a European final was in back in 2006/07 in the Champions League final. There, Milan defeated Liverpool 2-1 in Greece. That came two years after England’s most recent triumph in a European final at the expense of an Italian side. The two clubs met in Istanbul two years before, where Liverpool came from three goals down to defeat Milan on penalties.
West Ham’s only previous experience against Italian opposition in Europe came in the 2006/07 UEFA Cup first round. There, they lost both legs to Parma (1-0 at home, 3-0 away). As for Fiorentina, they have a 6-3-3 record against English sides in Europe, which is quite solid. Their last encounter came in the 2015/16 Europa League round of 32 against Tottenham. Despite knocking Spurs out of Europe in the same round a year prior, this time Fiorentina was no match, going down 4-1 on aggregate (1-1 at home, 3-0 away)
Fiorentina is also looking to keep the Europa Conference League trophy in Italy a year on after Roma defeated Feyenoord in the inaugural final. The last time two different teams from the same country won the same European club competition in back-to-back years came in 2019/20 and 2020/21. Sevilla and Villarreal did so for Spain in the Europa League, the former defeating Inter, while the latter topped Manchester United.
Of course, the winner of this season’s Europa Conference League will earn a spot in the Europa League group stage in September. As neither side has qualified for Europe domestically (as things stand), this match takes on even greater significance.
Prediction: who will win this season’s Europa Conference League?
This is a final between two well-matched teams. Both have fully earned their place in this showpiece, with excellent performances throughout the competition.
Goals could very well be a feature in this final, as both teams have scored in loads in the Conference League (Fiorentina 35 goals, West Ham 26, group stage to final). Only once has either team failed to score in a match in this year’s Conference League, which came in Fiorentina’s 3-0 reverse to Basaksehir in the group stage.
I would expect an open game from these two sides. It is quite likely both will score, so it will just be a matter of who holds their nerve better. If Fiorentina plays a complete 90 minutes, it will be very difficult to stop them. Seeing that they score goals freely, they seem the better side.
However, West Ham has shown they can stay in games throughout the Conference League. While they were not given a true challenge until the quarterfinals, the Hammers have also showed their mettle when it mattered most.
Given their impressive attack, I am going with Fiorentina winning the Conference League. I think they have an extra gear over West Ham, especially going forward. It will not be a blowout by any means, but something like a 2-1 or 3-1 would be accurate.