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Europa Conference League Preview - Semi-Final 1st Leg

The race to Prague has narrowed to just four possible contenders, with AZ Alkmaar, West Ham United, Fiorentina and FC Basel the remaining contenders.

Whittled down from a field initially of more than 100 possible teams, the final four are now agonisingly close to clinching European silverware and a place in the Europa League next season.


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West Ham United v AZ Alkmaar

On paper, Alkmaar enter this tie as the form team and have enjoyed a far better season domestically than their hosts on Thursday evening. Sitting comfortably fourth in the Eredivisie, Alkmaar are just two points off Ajax as well.

However, West Ham’s lowly position of 15th does not reflect the course of their season and a 1-0 victory against Manchester United underlined the undoubted quality they have in their side, a win which brought an end to three consecutive defeats. They have lost just four times in their past 14 games and are unbeaten from 12 games in Europe this season.

Gent proved to be a stubborn nut to crack for the Hammers in the quarter-finals, leading 2-1 at one stage in the tie before being blown away by an incredible attacking display. Memories of a painful exit to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League 12 months ago will need to be exorcised if David Moyes’ men are to progress to a first European final since 1999 when they won the UEFA Intertoto Cup.

Alkmaar have not featured in a European semi-final since 2005, with their pedigree underlined by beating both Lazio and Anderlecht in the knockout stages and rightfully earn a semi-final berth against the much-fancied Premier League side. Alkmaar have only faced English opposition twice in their history, a two-legged affair against Manchester United where they lost 4-0 on aggregate.

West Ham v AlkmaarTeam News

West Ham have the luxury of being able to field virtually the same XI which defeated Manchester United at the London Stadium. With the gap now seven points to the relegation places and with safety possibly secured at the weekend, Moyes will surely put all of his eggs in the Conference League basket.

Kurt Zouma is definitely out with an ankle injury, as is Gianluca Scamacca after undergoing knee surgery, but Tomas Soucek should be available after completing the match following a clash of heads with Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

Alkmaar are without flying left-back Milos Kerkez due to suspension, while Jens Odgaard is a massive doubt after sustaining a thigh injury during the goalless draw with Ajax on Sunday.

Former Southampton midfielder Jordy Clasie will likely try to contain the likes of Lucas Paqueta and Declan Rice driving from deep in midfield at the base for the visitors.

Fiorentina vs FC Basel

Fiorentina are one of five Italian sides vying for European glory this season, whilst Basel have continuously defied the odds to reach this stage of the competition. Not since 2015 have La Viola reached this stage of a European competition, and they are certainly making sure the journey is entertaining.

A dramatic 6-4 aggregate win against Lech Poznan in the quarter-finals secured their passage and the Italian outfit have scored 32 goals already this season, more than any other side in the competition. They have also lost just twice from 12 fixtures, scoring at least three goals on seven occasions during an unbeaten run between October and April. However, they have won just once in their past seven games in all competitions since then.

Basel are no strangers to drama themselves, beating Nice 4-3 on aggregate in the previous round and they have also had to come through three qualifying rounds to make it to this stage. Yet Heiko Vogel’s side are struggling in their domestic league just like Fiorentina and sit fifth in the Swiss Super League.

They also have a record of three wins, three draws and three losses in their last nine outings meaning it is unclear what side will turn up at Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence on Thursday night.

Fiorentina v Basel Team News

Luka Jovic is expected to lead the line for Fiorentina at home, with top scorer Arthur Cabral struggling with injury which saw him miss out on the defeat to Napoli on Sunday. Cabral has scored 15 goals this season, including six from seven Conference League games.

Veteran shot-stopper Salvatore Sirigu is also unavailable through injury, meaning Pietro Terraciano will be between the sticks for the Serie A side.

Fabian Frei and Arnau Comas will miss the clash for Basel, while Andy Pelmard and Riccardo Calafiori both missed Sunday’s defeat to FC Zurich.

Taulant Xhaka, brother of Granit, will aim to bolster the midfield as he prepares to pit his wits against Liverpool-linked Sofyan Amarabat in the middle of the park as the World Cup hero for Tunisia aims to go one stage further than he did for his country in Qatar.

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