It was some way for West Ham to silence the doubts about their inexperience on the European stage. They answered the questions by playing like seasoned travellers. There were no stumbles from David Moyes’s players as they took their first steps into the unknown and in the end, with Dinamo Zagreb confounded by West Ham’s organisation, it was hard to tell which team were supposed to be the novices at this level.
Moyes could not have asked for a more commanding away performance. West Ham were sharper and savvier throughout, their maturity and inventiveness key as they started their Europa League campaign with a memorable win. Dinamo were outplayed and had no answers to goals from Michail Antonio and Declan Rice, who killed the game as a contest with a stunning solo effort early in the second half.
Rice was outstanding in midfield, excelling on his European debut, but the England international was not alone. West Ham were impeccable. This was their first appearance in the main draw of a European competition since 2006, when a side containing Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano were bundled out of the first round of the Uefa Cup, but there was no sign of any nerves. Sitting back was not part of the plan from West Ham, who backed themselves on a bobbly pitch, passing with crisp assurance against opponents who have humbled Arsenal and Tottenham here in recent seasons.
“I was really pleased,” Moyes said. “Zagreb have a really good history. I knew it was going to be a tough game. We made the players aware of what it would be like. It’s certainly new to Declan Rice. He’s played international football for his country, but not for his club. He’s a terrific player.”
Playing in Europe for the 16th consecutive season, Dinamo looked put out to be pushed back in front of their boisterous fans. The Croatian champions struggled to get anything going during the first half. Quick to impose their muscular game on the hosts, West Ham were dominant. Tomas Soucek and Rice set the tone by establishing control in midfield, Aaron Cresswell and Ryan Fredericks attacked from full-back and it did not come as a surprise when the breakthrough arrived in the 21st minute, Kévin Théophile-Catherine’s back-pass gifting Antonio his fifth goal of the season.
It was a woeful error from the former Cardiff defender, who was replaced by Deni Juric at half-time. Too fast and strong for his markers, Antonio was on to the loose ball in a flash and the striker had the composure to finish, rounding Dominik Livakovic before tapping into the empty net.
Dinamo, who were knocked out of qualifying for the Champions League by Sheriff Tiraspol, could have conceded again moments later. Antonio held the ball up before releasing Fredericks and Livakovic denied West Ham’s right-back a rare goal by saving with his feet.
At that stage the only concern for West Ham was their inability to make more of their supremacy. Dinamo were bound to improve eventually. There were flashes from Mislav Orsic, whose hat-trick stunned Spurs in the last 16 of this competition last season, and a shot from Bruno Petkovic that whistled just wide as the half drew to a close.
West Ham had to concentrate at the back. Kurt Zouma, who had an impressive debut alongside Issa Diop in central defence, was in the right place to block a shot from Dinamo’s captain, Arijan Ademi. There was a shift in the mood, a sense that Dinamo were gearing up for a rousing fightback, and Moyes was wise to sense danger early in the second half, removing Manuel Lanzini shortly after he had risked a second booking with a lunge on Stefan Ristovski.
Fortunately for Lanzini, West Ham had already doubled their lead by the time he made way for Saïd Benrahma in the 52nd minute. Rice had just produced something special, surging clear after nicking possession off Petkovic in the middle of his own half. It was a remarkable run from West Ham’s captain, who shrugged Petkovic aside before rumbling into the box and firing an angled shot through Livakovic’s legs.
Rice, making his 150th appearance for West Ham, celebrated by running to the corner and goading the fans behind Dinamo’s goal. Ademi was furious; West Ham were defiant. Luka Ivanusec twice went close for the hosts, sending shots just wide, but in the end the home fans were reduced to whistling the former Hajduk Split midfielder Nikola Vlasic when he made way for Jarrod Bowen.