Zouma: Everyone here is ready to play and give 100 per cent


Kurt Zouma of West Ham United during the UEFA Europa League 2023/24 quarter-final first leg press conference at Bay Arena on April 10, 2024 in Leverkusen, Germany. 

Bayer Leverkusen have not experienced what it feels like to lose a competitive football match since May 2023, but Kurt Zouma says West Ham United believe they can send the all-conquering Germans to defeat in their UEFA Europa League quarter-final.

The Hammers will seek to end Leverkusen’s 41-game unbeaten run in all competitions at the BayArena on Thursday evening, where the English Premier League side will tackle the Bundesliga leaders and German Cup finalists in the first of two legs.

Captain Zouma will lead his Irons onto the pitch knowing they will need to withstand not just talented, resilient and confident opponents, but do so without the injured Alphonse Areola, Jarrod Bowen and Kalvin Phillips and the suspended Edson Álvarez.

“It could be the toughest [test I’ve faced in Europe with West Ham] because they haven’t lost for 41 games, but it’s also a challenge for us because we know how well they’ve played this season,” he told journalists at his pre-match press conference in Germany. “It’s going to be a good game to play in, a tough game, but we’re still confident we can do something.”

It would be a dream and almost an objective [to lift a trophy as West Ham captain], I would say

Kurt Zouma

West Ham have shown their own quality in Europe, too, topping their group and then recovering from a first-leg deficit to thump Leverkusen’s compatriots Freiburg 5-0 in the second leg of their round of 16 tie.

The Irons also did something in 2023 that Leverkusen have not done since 1988 – win a major European trophy – by defeating Fiorentina in last season’s UEFA Europa Conference League final.

That success, and a run to the Europa League semi-finals in 2021/22, have given Zouma and his teammates belief they can continue thriving in Europe, whatever the odds against them.

“I think it’s going to be a challenge. As we know how well they play in Europe and their domestic league, but we know what we have as well and how dangerous we can be,” he continued. “We know how well we can play, like we did in the home game against Freiburg.

“Like I said, we know how tough it’s going to be over the two legs, but hopefully we can get a good result on Thursday and next week. We believe in ourselves and our togetherness will help.”

Kurt Zouma

Leverkusen may have gone through the season unbeaten, but they have gone close to being eliminated from the Europa League, having needed to come from two goals down in both legs to defeat Azerbaijani champions Qarabağ 5-4 on aggregate in the round of 16.

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“Everything is possible,” Zouma observed. “We work on things tactically and we have got to be spot-on and ready to suffer sometimes but also we can hurt them, I would say. We want to make it tough for them as well and hopefully Thursday it’ll be a good game to watch and hopefully we can get a good result.

“We all play the game to win [on Thursday]. It’s all about winning. We know we are missing a few key players, but we’ve got a good squad and everyone here is ready to play and give 100 per cent.”

Of course, should West Ham defeat Leverkusen across two legs, the east Londoners will be through to a third successive European semi-final and, while two more challenging obstacles will need to be overcome, Zouma admitted he would love to become the second Hammers captain in as many seasons to lift a trophy.

“It’s a huge honour for me, especially leading the team to the quarter-finals of the Europa League, which is something I never dreamed I would do before,” he revealed. “It was a dream as a kid, to be the captain.

“Seriously, I’m very lucky to be the captain of this amazing team, especially with a great group of players, top players, inside and outside the pitch, so I’m very proud.

“It would be a dream and almost an objective [to lift a trophy as West Ham captain], I would say. We are not too far away, even though there are tough games to go. It’s going to be tough, but we all believe we can do it. We have done quite well the last two years in Europe and hopefully we can do as well this year.”

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