West Ham United 2-0 SC Freiburg
UEFA Europa League Group A, London Stadium, Thursday 14 December 2023
West Ham United accomplished their latest European mission by defeating SC Freiburg 2-0 at London Stadium to finish top of UEFA Europa League Group A and qualify directly for the round of 16.
Mohammed Kudus struck the opening goal of the game 14 minutes in, before Edson Álvarez doubled the Hammers’ lead three minutes before half-time.
West Ham’s tenth home European win in succession not only secured knockout football after Christmas, but also meant the UEFA Europa Conference League champions became just the sixth English club to win their group in three consecutive seasons.
The Irons showed no hangover from Sunday’s humbling Premier League defeat at Fulham by pressing their opponents, playing with good intensity with and without the ball, creating decent opportunities and scoring two wonderfully crafted goals.
The first chance was created by Kudus, who burst past left-back Jordy Makengo and cut a bouncing ball back which Lucas Paquetá rifled against the face of the Freiburg crossbar with goalkeeper Noah Atobulu stood motionless.
Minutes later, the Ghanaian struck, losing Makengo with ease, controlling Edson Álvarez’s lofted ball on his chest before taking advantage of hesitation from the goalkeeper to finish with his left foot. VAR checks for handball and offside confirmed no offence had been committed and Kudus’s joy was confirmed.
There was almost a repeat midway through the first half, too, as Jarrod Bowen collected Emerson’s pass and fired confidently past Atobulu, only for the assistant’s flag to be correctly raised for offside.
Bowen and Tomáš Souček also shot off-target as West Ham repeatedly hurried the Germany U21 stopper and forced him into loose passes out from the back.
At the other end, Freiburg threatened fleetingly, with headers from Nicolas Höfler and Michael Gregoritsch flying high and wide before Ritsu Doan tested Łukasz Fabiański with a low drive as half-time approached.
And Christian Streich’s side were made to pay a minute later when Álvarez collected from Paquetá, strode forward, exchanged passes with Bowen and fired high into the net to score the first Europa League goal of his career. Bowen’s assist made it 14 direct goal involvements in 20 games to continue his impressive season.
The chances continued to flow after the break, too, despite Álvarez being forced off with an injury he initially suffered early in the first half, as Emerson forced a save from Atobulu, Bowen somehow put Coufal’s cross over the top and Kudus shaved the upright with a powerful strike.
Freiburg needed three goals to top the group and kept plugging away, with substitute Merlin Röhl – twice – and Doan both seeing low shots saved by Fabiański diving low to his right, but that was the closest they came to a consolation goal.
And so it is that West Ham will go into the New Year with knockout European football to look forward to for the third straight season.
West Ham United: Fabiański ©, Coufal (Kehrer 88), Mavropanos, Aguerd, Emerson, Álvarez (Fornals 54), Ward-Prowse, Souček, Kudus (Cornet 88), Paquetá (Mubama 72), Bowen (Ings 72)
Subs not used: Areola (GK), Johnson, Cresswell, Zouma, Ogbonna, Coventry, Benrahma
Goals: Kudus 14, Álvarez 42
SC Freiburg: Atubolu, Sidillia, Ginter, Gulde, Makengo (Kübler 74), Doan, Eggestein (Höler 56), Höfler, Grifo © (Weißhaupt 68), Gregoritsch (Adamu 56), Sallai (Röhl 46)
Subs not used: Müller (GK), Jantunen (GK), Rüdlin, Baur
Referee: João Pinheiro (Portugal)