West Ham United were beaten by Croatian visitors Dinamo Zagreb on Thursday night. The only goal of the game came in the third minute, when Mislav Orsic fired a sumptuous effort into the top corner from outside the penalty area.
The loss was not much of an issue for West Ham, who had already comfortably qualified for the Europa League’s round of 16 as Group H winners. Manager David Moyes fielded 11 changes to the side that beat Chelsea 3-2, in Premier League action earlier in the week, with five young stars making their full debuts for the first team.
After the game, Moyes spoke highly of the youthful talent on show: “I thought the young players did well and recovered after we lost an early goal. It was interesting because we scored a bit of a fluke against Chelsea from the same area that [Orsic] did it today. Apart from that, I think the young boys did really well.
“I think it was a tough game for [the young players] and at this level, ideally we wouldn’t have played five of them but the situation was that we were sort of forced into it slightly – even another two came on as well but overall, I thought they all acquitted themselves really well.
“In different times of the game you could see their youthfulness where they didn’t quite make the right decision or the right choice but I think we also saw that some of them out there – if they keep improving and keep their work up – could become first-team players.”
However, Moyes was not going to give the fresh faces any special treatment after the defeat.
“I’m a winner and I’m disappointed that I’ve not got something out of the game tonight. I think it is important that the younger players see that and know that I am not happy as well. It wasn’t that I was disappointed with them tonight – they’ve done really well considering where we are at.”
The Scotsman also touched upon his policy for bringing young players into the first-team. Moyes made it clear that he would not give an opportunity like this out for free.
“I’m always happy to give young players a chance, but I’ve also got to be a realist and say that they have to earn the right to play. I want them to go out there knowing that they’ll be good and won’t let us down. None of them let us down tonight – they did a great job. I also would have liked to have got a situation where I didn’t have to have so many on the pitch at one time but it wasn’t quite possible.”
A host of European giants will be joining the Europa League in its knockout phase following third-place finishes in their respective Champions League groups. Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig, FC Porto and FC Barcelona are just some of the clubs that West Ham could be drawn against in the round of 16. Moyes is not worried about the possible opposition just yet.
“I am really looking forward to [the knockout stages]. Before every European campaign we’ve said we would have been really pleased with European football after Christmastime but we won the group and we’re looking forward to it. If you get in the competition, you really enjoy the group stages – we have, and now we are excited for the knockout part of the competition.
“I think, at the moment, West Ham are a big team and I think we’re a side who a lot of them will be worried about – there’s a lot of people talking about us.
“Football changes a lot between now and March – the form of teams, how you’re playing, injuries for examples. You need all of those things to fall into place as well at the right time so we hope that we’re in good shape and form when it comes round to those games.”