Pablo Fornals is looking forward to a ‘great adventure’ for West Ham United in the UEFA Europa League this season following the revelation of their group-stage opponents.
The 25-year-old and his teammates gathered at Rush Green Training Ground on Friday morning to watch the first-round draw, which pitted West Ham against Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb and Belgian and Austrian runners-up Genk and Rapid Vienna respectively.
A Club-record Premier League points tally of 65 last season granted the Irons their first-ever entry into the Europa League group stages.
But having been placed in the last alphabetical group of the competition, Group H, of the competition, Fornals and his teammates were forced to wait long stretches in suspense for the identity of their opponents!
“Everyone was excited watching the draw,” he told whufc.com. “It was funny because we were the last ones out for everything!
“We were last to find out what was going to happen every time, but everyone was happy because they are good teams. We’re going to go to good places and to good stadiums as well, so it’s going to be a great adventure for us.
“They are great teams in their countries, so it’s not going to be easy for us. I think they are used to playing in big competitions but we are in it this year, so we’ll have to work extra hard.”
A tenacious and creative No8, hard work is certainly the foundation of fans’ favourite Fornals’ game.
It’s going to be good to be a part of, not just for West Ham supporters, but for everyone at the Club
And the Spaniard recognises that – at this level of European competition – results will only come with the highest standards of endeavour.
He continued: “It’s not going to be easy, because we’re going to have to travel and there are going to be a lot of games in between our fixtures, but we’re going to fight to win them.
“Probably all of the teams in our group are in the same mood. They know what the other teams are going to offer – but we want to smash it. We want to keep moving forwards in the competition, so obviously we’re going to try to do our best.
“We’re going to see a lot of good teams with good footballers, and with different styles of play. It’s going to be good to be a part of, not just for West Ham supporters, but for everyone at the Club.”
With 17 appearances in the UEFA Europa League already to his name at former club Villarreal – this season’s defending champions – Fornals has also previously come across Rapid Vienna in the competition.
In October 2018, the then-22-year-old scored one and assisted another for the Yellow Submarines in a 5-0 win over their Austrian opposition.
In the return group-stage game, Fornals featured from the bench for the final quarter-of-an-hour of a 0-0 draw, and has fond memories of the atmosphere at Rapid Vienna’s home ground, the Allianz Stadion.
The playmaker also recalled visiting Dinamo Zagreb’s Maksimir Stadium as an unused substitute with the Spanish national side in November 2018, when a raucous atmosphere paved the way for Croatia to defeat their visitors 3-2 in the UEFA Nations League.
“When I saw Rapid Vienna in the draw, I said ‘I think I remember playing against this team’!” Fornals smiled. “But they are great too.
“It’s not going to be easy because they are so important in their league. They have a lot of supporters in their country.
“Obviously now, with people back in crowds, that will help them. I’ve also been part of a game at Dinamo Zagreb’s stadium too – Spain against Croatia – and the atmosphere was unbelievable, so it’s not going to be easy for us.”
It’s what we are trying to do every game, home or away: enjoy it, and make the people proud to be West Ham fans
Having been recalled this week to La Roja by head coach Luis Enrique – a reflection on his fine start to the season on the domestic front in Claret and Blue – Fornals is keen to maintain his form when West Ham play host to Crystal Palace on Saturday afternoon.
He concluded: “It’s hard because in the Premier League, there are no easy games, but after Monday it’s going to be another extra motivation for us playing again in front of 60,000 supporters – our amazing fans – at the London Stadium.
“It’s what we are trying to do every game, home or away: enjoy it, and make the people proud to be West Ham fans.”