West Ham fall just short in the quarter-finals of the Europa League, while unbeaten Bayer Leverkusen advance

Jeremy Frimpong’s late equalizer maintained Bayer Leverkusen’s unbeaten season (Getty Images)

So close, but not for West Ham United this time. As the Hammers’ jovial pre-match anthem goes: Then, like my dreams, they fade and die. Worn out in harmony in the beginning, so it happened at the end. West Ham honestly won the occasion with their best performance of the season on this cool April evening, but Bayer Leverkusen won the war.

Xabi Alonso’s side remain unbeaten in all competitions this season – the score is now 44-0 – thanks to Jeremy Frimpong’s late equalizer that evening and they are through to the semi-finals of the Europa League. West Ham’s glittering, unbeaten European journey dating back nearly two years is over, but there can be no shame here. Because wow, did they scare Europe’s in-form team and the newly crowned Bundesliga champions?

Michail Antonio’s header in the thirteenth minute, from Jarrod Bowen’s tempting cross, proved to be West Ham’s only goal of the match. In reality, they should have at least scored once more – how they will regret Bowen’s first-half volley straight at the goalkeeper. But despite an exciting, free-spirited display in front of a raucous crowd at the London Stadium, there was to be no Sevilla-like comeback here. Ultimately, chasing a two-goal deficit, they had too much ground to make up.

Because Leverkusen always finds a way. What a side. What a mentality. Alonso was delighted with his team’s performance for most of the evening, but towards the end, in scenes similar to the late show against Qarabag in the last 16 and last week’s first leg, he was jubilant and jumping in jubilation to the goal. which sealed a final four berth.

Leverkusen left it late, as they so often seem to do, but the preceding 89 minutes were enough for West Ham fans to be proud of. Plenty to do before their final five Premier League games of the season, two points off a European place, they will want to place Newcastle and Manchester United above them. They want to taste this again. Because there’s just something about Thursday nights at the London Stadium.

An athletics arena much maligned when it entered the football world, West Ham’s fanbase has taken the empty space between the pitch and the stands and filled it with a cacophony of noise during their fairytale journey in European football over the past three years. This night was no different. And how lively it was from day point. With shouts and cheers booming throughout the stadium, limiting the red-clad traveling contingent to just a supporting act, David Moyes’ men started on the front foot and quickly. Aggressive in their press, strong in their duels, Leverkusen resorted to lumping the ball on the pitch; if not, they lose it. West Ham had to take advantage and it took just 13 minutes for the deficit to be halved in the draw.

Leverkusen gave Bowen time and space on the ball outside the penalty area and, unbeknownst to them given his absence last week, you simply don’t give Bowen space outside the penalty area this season. The England international scored a superb inswinging cross and Antonio rose highest, ahead of Leverkusen’s Cup goalkeeper Matej Kovar, to head home into an empty net.

Alonso’s team, the epitome of calm in this record campaign, was shocked. They were not used to this. The Spanish manager, who usually personifies coolness, was animatedly furious with his defense for playing with the ball. Moyes joked that he had hoped for a hangover from the Bundesliga champions after their title celebrations on Sunday, and to some extent he got one.

Michail Antonio halved the deficit in the draw with a brave header (Getty Images)Michail Antonio halved the deficit in the draw with a brave header (Getty Images)

Michail Antonio halved the deficit in the draw with a brave header (Getty Images)

Mohammed Kudus, on another Thursday evening rusher under the London lights, came close to equalizing not long after, with his deflected effort almost wrong-footing Kovar before his cross found an unmarked Bowen at the back post. West Ham’s top scorer should have scored, but his volley on his weaker right foot was nevertheless well saved by Kovar. Such a babysitter made the 60-year-old Moyes roll backwards.

Twenty-eight minutes later, Alonso had seen enough. Central defender Odilon Kossounou, who had endured a disastrous period from the kick-off, was replaced by Edmond Tapsoba. Not long afterwards, each employee was sent off the field after an argument on the sidelines, which also led to fist fights on the field.

West Ham wanted the match to be played on emotion and half an hour later they had the German champions rattling.

Tempers flared on the field and in the technical area (Getty Images)Tempers flared on the field and in the technical area (Getty Images)

Tempers flared on the field and in the technical area (Getty Images)

Xabi Alonso's team left the London Stadium late again (Getty Images)Xabi Alonso's team left the London Stadium late again (Getty Images)

Xabi Alonso’s team left the London Stadium late again (Getty Images)

Bowen almost found Antonio again, copying the goal’s cross, but the striker couldn’t quite reach it and before the break was out, Edson Alvarez and Vladimir Coufal both had lookers in the box but couldn’t convert. At half-time the lead was only second to the best half of football West Ham had played all season – but would they regret not scoring more? The answer, somewhat inevitably given their opponents, would be yes.

A feeling of peace returned. Alonso made two more changes at the break, with top scorer Victor Boniface among the introductions, and the match was suddenly played at Leverkusen’s pace: slow, calm, collected. Star player Florian Wirtz missed the clearest opening yet by spooning a half-volley over the crossbar, while Bowen came close again at the other end with his right foot.

Which side would save this tie in an hour? Slowly but surely in Leverkusen’s favor. For the first time, the 11 in burgundy looked leggy, taking deep breaths and puffing out their cheeks as the game was stretched. Jaded bodies and jaded minds, West Ham’s annoyance with minor fouls against them was matched by the crowd’s anger. The referee, Jose Maria Sanchez of Spain, was not a popular man in yellow at the end and handed out two yellow cards for dissent within seconds. Ultimately there would be 11 bookings. There are no prizes for guessing the songs released at this stage.

But it was a sign of the times. Leverkusen had regained control and possession amid the tension of the closing stages. At half-time, substitute Frimpong had a glorious one-on-one chance to close the scoring, but he skied over the crossbar.

Yet he made no mistake a few minutes later when the clock struck 90. He cut inside from the right and saw his weak left-foot shot deflect off Aaron Cresswell and desperately past Lukasz Fabianski. And with that, the visions of another away day, the visions of AS Roma and the Stadio Olimpico in the semi-final, pass to Leverkusen as they march on in search of a historic treble.

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