Kurt Zouma: West Ham United played with confidence and deserved our win
Typically cool and typically collected, Kurt Zouma was also typically dominant on his debut.
With the kind of maturity which has seen the 26-year-old start in senior France internationals, UEFA Champions League clashes and FA Cup and League Cup finals both home and abroad, big occasions do not faze the defender – nor, indeed, do they appear to faze this West Ham United side as a whole.
The Irons made their UEFA Europa League group-stage bow on Thursday evening at Dinamo Zagreb’s atmospheric Stadion Maksimir, but put in a professional performance which yielded dominance of the game and a 2-0 win to match.
Both goals stemmed from misplaced Dinamo Zagreb passes either side of half-time, with Michail Antonio and Declan Rice reaping the benefits – the latter in particular with an excellent run before his finish – of a collectively impressive team display.
That the occasion also marked Zouma’s inaugural display in a West Ham shirt was just one more reason for the travelling East Londoners to cheer a memorable night in south-eastern Europe.
“It was great, very good,” Zouma told West Ham TV. “I think we played a great game today.
"We controlled the game. We had a bit of pressure at the beginning of the second half, but Deccer’s goal saved us and gave us the confidence to keep going.
“We worked very well in training. The manager had a plan and we all stuck to the plan. The plan worked very well for this game.
“We know that it was West Ham’s first game in the Europa League [group stages], but we have some experienced guys here and a game is a game, eleven v eleven, and you never know what’s going to happen.
“We played with a lot of confidence today and we deserved the win.”
I’ve met some top guys, top players, top people around me. It’s like a family – my new family here – and I’m very happy to be here
Partnering fellow French centre-back Issa Diop on Thursday, Zouma looked well at home in a West Ham United shirt and – when drifting forwards to attack set-pieces – a threat in the opposition penalty box.
Making a match-high six clearances and three interceptions, winning two aerial duels and completing 86.4 per cent (the Hammers' third-highest total) of his passes, the new No4 feels that he has settled in seamlessly since returning from international duty just over a week ago.
That his bow could come in front of the thousand-plus devoted West Ham supporters present in Zagreb was just the cherry on the cake for the 26-year-old.
Zouma smiled: “Seriously, thanks to them, because there were a lot of fans here supporting us and the game was for them.
“We did it well for them and they really deserve it. Hopefully we can keep them happy and make ourselves happy too.
“I’m settling in very well. I’ve met some top guys, top players, top people around me. It’s like a family – my new family here – and I’m very happy to be here.”
Zouma’s first appearance for West Ham also coincided with Rice’s 150th for the Club, the vice-captain’s landmark being capped with his impressive goal after half-time.
“It was a great goal and a great game for Dec,” Zouma noted.
“Everything that’s happened to him, he deserves, because he’s working so hard in training and he’s a top guy – he deserves it all.”
As for the upcoming busy fixture schedule, Zouma is looking forward to embracing the challenges ahead of him; the Hammers’ next Europa League game is at home to Rapid Vienna on Thursday 30 September, with tickets on General Sale now.
“We want to dream big in this competition,” he noted.
“We want to go all the way, why not? Everyone can do it. It’s football. You can have a target, you can have dreams, and why not go all the way?”
More immediate, however, is the visit of Manchester United to London Stadium on Sunday afternoon – a game which could mark Zouma’s home debut for West Ham.
The 26-year-old concluded: “Sunday is going to be a tough game, but hopefully the fans will be behind us and helping us to make sure we get the three points.
“It’s going to be a tough game against a very strong side, but we have to keep the same confidence and obviously play our game.”