West Ham United vice-captain Declan Rice is anticipating another spectacular atmosphere when Rapid Vienna come to London Stadium in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday night.
The 22-year-old midfielder, who scored in the Irons’ first-ever match in the competition proper – away at Dinamo Zagreb a fortnight ago – will be hoping for a similarly special night on the occasion of West Ham’s first home game in it.
A vociferous crowd and massive Claret and Blue backing is expected for the first European night under the lights – as proved the case one thousand miles away in Croatia two weeks ago.
And having already created one special European memory this month, Rice can’t wait to share in another.
“It's only really started to hit me now how special that night was in Zagreb,” the England midfielder said, speaking at his pre-match press conference.
“We were in a European competition, for me and a lot of players for the first time, and it was just special. To get the win, to score and to have the fans there to celebrate with us was a really big achievement.
“But it means nothing if we don't go out there on Thursday night, in front of our fans, and get three points, which would see us start off with six from six. We really want to top this group and that's the objective.”
Such is the format of the UEFA Europa League this year that, should the Hammers progress as winners of Group H, they would go straight into the competition’s Round of 16 and skip the Play-Off round, where the second-placed teams are matched with teams who come third in the Champions League groups.
To play my first game in Europe for West Ham was really special
Before that, however, lies the prospect of Rapid Vienna who, despite making a poor start to their 2021/22 Austrian Bundesliga campaign – sitting second from bottom with just two wins from their first nine games – do possess plenty of European pedigree, having successfully reached the Europa League knock-out stages themselves 2015/16 and 2018/19.
Taking on such teams from across the continent – with their different styles and personnel – is of huge benefit to his team’s and personal development, Rice believes.
“I had that experience in the summer of playing international European football [for England] and I learned so much from that,” he confirmed. “To play my first game in Europe for West Ham was really special as well.
“I want to keep playing in Europe and pushing myself to get better. I think you'll learn a lot, more as the games come on and we play different opposition.
“You’ll learn from different styles and different players you get to come up against to those in the Premier League. I think there's definitely a lot to learn.”
Rice also reiterated that spirits are high at West Ham after the outstanding successes achieved in 2020/21 and the strong start to the new campaign.
He explained: “I've played in teams here that have fought relegation and been mid-table, but in the last two seasons, what the manager has built for us, and what we've bought into as players, has been amazing.
“It's a place where you wake up in the morning and you look forward to going in and having breakfast with the lads. You look forward to having a laugh and you look forward to training.
“It's like a big family. I think the gaffer said it before, we're all like a bunch of kids. Honestly, it's such a great place to be around at the moment. With the results and how well we're doing, that makes it that bit more special.”
Rice hopes that Thursday’s game against Rapid Vienna will mark another happy chapter in the Irons’ latest European adventure.
“I think we can achieve good things,” he confirmed. “Last season you saw that we finished two points off the Champions League places and could have gotten into that.
“Now, in cup competitions, like the other night [when we won] against Manchester United, I feel like the mentality around the place is that every competition we enter, we feel it’s one we can go on and win for sure.
“This [the Europa League] is a new one we’re involved in – and we want to win it.
“I love playing for this team, I love playing under the manager, and every time I go out onto the pitch I will always give everything for them."
With West Ham United's first European night under the London Stadium lights upon us, you still have the chance to secure your seat for Thursday's game against Rapid Vienna!