Vladimir Coufal

Coufal: I just wanted to say ‘Thank you’ to our fans

Vladimír Coufal is never scared to show his emotion, win, lose or draw – and it was laid bare following West Ham United’s UEFA Europa League semi-final exit at Eintracht Frankfurt.

The Czech full-back gave everything for the Claret and Blue cause in Germany, as did his teammates after the Irons were reduced to ten men just 17 minutes in by Aaron Cresswell’s sending-off, but ultimately it was not enough as Frankfurt won 1-0 on the night and went through 3-1 on aggregate.

At the final whistle, Eintracht’s fans poured onto the pitch but, rather than run for the cover of the players’ tunnel, the No5 proudly strode to the Away section and applauded the travelling support – support which has followed Coufal and company over land and sea over the past eight months and support which shared his disappointment at missing out on a major European final by the narrowest of margins.

I just wanted to say ‘Thank you’ to our fans, to show them my appreciation and throw them my jersey. I wasn’t scared of the Frankfurt fans
Vladimír Coufal

“After 20 minutes we conceded a red card and it completely changed our gameplan that we had,” he explained. “It was difficult for us and unfortunately we also conceded the first goal before the end of the first half, so we weren’t in a good position for the second half.

“We tried to do our maximum, but for Frankfurt it was comfortable for them to play with one player more and they kept the ball. They played like a big team, they beat us in both games so they deserve to be in the final a bit more. We wish them luck in the final and that’s all.”

A true team player, Coufal refused to attribute any blame for the Hammers’ defeat to Cresswell, who was shown the red card on a VAR review after denying Frankfurt midfielder Jens Petter Hauge a clear goalscoring opportunity as the pair jostled for goalkeeper Kevin Trapp’s long clearance.

“I haven’t seen this situation on the video in slow motion so far, so I cannot judge what exactly happened, but what do you want me to say about Aaron Cresswell? Of course he’s disappointed, but he helped us in many games and for sure it wasn’t just his mistake as we could cover him,” he said. “We are winning together and we are losing together so there’s nothing to judge for him.”

Vladimir Coufal

Defeat not only denied West Ham a place in the final, but an opportunity to face Scottish club Rangers in a one-off game that would see the winners qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League.

Now, the challenge for the Hammers is to raise themselves again, mentally and physically, to win at Norwich City on Sunday and strengthen their claims for a top-seven Premier League finish and qualification for Europe again.

“Of course everybody knows it’s almost impossible for us to get a Champions League spot through our Premier League place, so it was a big chance for us to play Champions League next year, but unfortunately we gave this opportunity to Frankfurt,” he observed.

“We need to delete this and we need to refocus on the end of the season and win as many games as we can. We need to concentrate on the Premier League because we are in a spot that would guarantee European football next year so in three days we are going to travel to Norwich and we need to win, to get three points and that’s all.”

Coufal ended by explaining his decision to stay on the pitch as thousands of Frankfurt fans invaded it after the final whistle, before walking calmly to the Claret and Blue Army and throwing his shirt into the Away end.

“I wasn’t scared,” he confirmed. “I experienced it many times when I played for Slavia Prague. I don’t think the fans would attack me but if they did it’s their problem, not mine.

“I just wanted to say ‘Thank you’ to our fans, to show them my appreciation and throw them my jersey. I wasn’t scared of the Frankfurt fans.”


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