Japanese midfielder inspires Frankfurt to win semi-final first leg against West Ham

EINTRACHT FRANKFURT took control of their Europa League semi-final against West Ham as Japanese midfielder Daichi Kamada inspired a 2-1 first leg win on Thursday.

Oliver Glasner’s side arrived at the London Stadium as outsiders to a West Ham side who were enjoying their best season in years.

But Ansgar Knauff gave Frankfurt the perfect start with a goal after just 49 seconds.

Michail Antonio equalized with his first goal in 11 matches, but Kamada bagged the winner with a second-half close-range finish.

Frankfurt have struggled at times in the Bundesliga this season, salvaging their best performances for Europe.

They had already stunned Barcelona in the quarter-finals and this was another memorable performance, putting them in pole position to reach the final against either RB Leipzig or Rangers.

Frankfurt, whose only major European title came in the 1980 UEFA Cup, can finish the job by hosting the second leg on May 5.

In 1976, West Ham beat Frankfurt 4-3 on aggregate in the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

In the hope of reaching their first major European final since then, West Ham will need to stage an impressive escape act in Frankfurt to emulate that success.

In their first semi-final since the 2014 League Cup, West Ham welcomed Kurt Zouma with an ankle problem after Moyes feared he would have only one fit centre-back due to wounds.

Despite Zouma’s presence, West Ham’s defense was breached after less than a minute.

Rafael Borre had far too much time and space on the edge of the box and he ruthlessly exploited West Ham’s hesitation.

Borre’s precise cross deflected towards the far post, where Knauff got behind a dozing Pablo Fornals and slammed a powerful header past Alphonse Areola from close range.

It was the fastest ever goal in a Europa League semi-final and West Ham understandably looked shocked.

Moyes motioned for his players to calm down as the passes wandered off in their anxiety to get back in the draw.

Jarrod Bowen should have eased West Ham’s nerves when he pounced on Fornals’ defensive pass, but the winger held his head in frustration after his low shot hit the post.

Undeterred by their nightmarish start, West Ham began to turn the screw and Antonio made sure their pressure paid off with the equalizer in the 21st minute.

Zouma took the lead from Manuel Lanzini’s free-kick into the goal and Antonio leapt with a stretching volley virtually on the line.

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Frankfurt squandered a golden chance to reclaim the lead just before half-time when Knauff ran over Borre’s through ball, only to have his initial effort blocked before he skied the follow-up over the bar.

It was a warning West Ham ignored and the Germans struck with a superbly crafted move 10 minutes into the second half.

A quick exchange of passes ripped through the West Ham defense and, although Djibril Sow’s shot was saved by Areola, Kamada was on hand to exploit the rebound into the empty net despite the hosts’ calls for offside.

Moyes sent on Said Benrahma in a bid to boost his side and the Algerian was close to equalizing with a long-range curler that clipped the woodwork.

Taken down by Declan Rice moments earlier, Kamada almost demanded instant revenge, rushing for a shot that hit the far post.

In stoppage time, West Ham hit the woodwork for the third time as Bowen’s bicycle kick crashed into the bar.

– ©AFP 2022

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