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Europa League and Europa Conference League: Semi Finals Preview

West Ham will look towards striker Michail Antonio to power them towards a European final on Thursday night.

The Hammers host Dutch club AZ Alkmaar in the first leg of their Europa Conference League semi-final at the London Stadium, in buoyant mood after their recent 1-0 Premier League win over Manchester United.

That was a game in which the United defenders never really got to grips with Antonio’s strength and awkwardness and manager David Moyes will be hopeful of more of the same from his Jamaican international.

It’s a balancing act, though, as Antonio’s physical approach can sometimes get him on the wrong side of referees in European football.

“I don’t think there are many centre-halves who would want to play against Micky Antonio, I think he can be a handful,” said Moyes.

“But, I also think maybe European referees might see Mick differently and find that his physicality might not quite suit. These are the sorts of things that we’ve found a little bit as we’ve gone along in Europe, so we need to hope that we can [improve] after the experiences we had last year.

“We went a goal down after two or three minutes here against Frankfurt and we get a player sent off in the second game. We’ve got to try and learn from that, our experiences in Europe. Hopefully, Mick is able to play as well and do as much as he did [against Manchester United].”

Antonio has grabbed 13 goals despite his club’s struggles at times this season and will be desperate to score more in the first leg as West Ham bid to go one better than last season.

It was 12 months ago that Moyes’ men lost 3-1 on aggregate to Eintracht Frankfurt at the semi-final stage after Adam Cresswell was sent off in the second leg.

West Ham go into the match after a mixed patch of results. Although they beat United 1-0 to virtually assure themselves of Premier League football next season, they lost their three previous league games.

But the United result – as well as their 5-2 aggregate win over Gent – should give the Hammers encouragement they can reach the final, which will be played in Prague, and they are firm favourites.

Alkmaar are currently fourth in the Eredivisie and put out Belgians Anderlecht in the last eight of the Europa Conference League.

The winners will meet either Fiorentina or Basel, who contest the other semi-final.

Fiorentina are currently eighth in Serie A in Italy, while Basel are fifth in the Swiss League.

Also on Thursday night are the Europa League semi-finals, with an Italian-Spanish clash between Turin giants Juventus and Sevilla, six-times winners of the competition.

In the other semi-final, Jose Mourinho’s Roma face the Germans of Bayer Leverkusen.

In the first legs, Juventus are favourites to gain a lead over Sevilla, whilst Roma are also even money to gain a first leg lead over their German opponents.

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