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On the club’s biggest night in decades, the fundamentals that have brought them this far went missing as two soft goals either side of Michail Antonio’s strike handed the advantage to Frankfurt.
There was fight, quality and desire at times during this performance but David Moyes will have been bitterly disappointed by the manner in which his side gave up the two goals.
Frankfurt are a fine side - they beat Barcelona to get to the last four - but it was made too easy for them here.
West Ham have overcome adversity many times during this campaign and will now need to summon that spirit again in Germany next week after fluffing their lines on their big night.
This stadium, so often derided as soulless, had a buzz about it which had not been felt before. The DJ, borrowed from Wembley throughout this knockout stage, was back pitchside as the screens showed highlights from West Ham’s last European semi-final - a victory over the very same opponents 46 years ago.
Bubbles was sung with fervour before a rendition of “West Ham are massive” from the 60,000 waiting to witness history.
There was a feeling that another special night was in store. The mood was very different 48 seconds after the whistle.
Moyes has built his West Ham side from the foundation of being very hard to beat, but they welcomed the visitors forward with open arms seconds into the game, allowing Daichi Kamada the space to stroll forward and find Rafael Borre on the corner of the box. The forward was given the time to turn and pick his cross to the far post, where Ansgar Knauff had slipped behind Pablo Fornals and headed across a helpless Alphonse Areola.
It was a nightmare start and the sort of goal this West Ham side do not often concede.
This group are made of stern stuff, however, and quickly went in search of a way back.
It would have come through Jarrod Bowen were it not for the slightest of touches off of the boot of Kevin Trapp, the Frankfurt goalkeeper.
Tomas Soucek sent Bowen racing through but his shot was diverted onto the post by the touch of a stud on Trapp’s boot.
Belief was growing. Unlike in years before, the crowd were united behind their side and pushing them on, driving Antonio to break his goalscoring duck at the ideal moment.
The striker had not scored since March 2, and just twice since the turn of the year, but was alive to race to the back post from Manuel Lanzini’s free-kick and turn a header from Kurt Zouma, a surprise inclusion after a rapid recovery from injury, in.
There was no planned set-piece celebration - just a heady mix of relief and delirium.
West Ham played with their chests puffed out after the goal. The hosts were confident and crisp on the ball, stringing long moves together and just about holding it together at the back.
Aaron Cresswell was in the nick of time to slide around Knauff and hook the ball away on the counter before the wing-back fired his follow-up well over the bar.
The Hammers went into the break with a sense that they could put this tie to bed before they even reach Germany next week, but were brought back down to earth shortly after the break.
It was another goal that could have been avoided. West Ham were sat back in their box with little pressure on the ball from Soucek and Rice allowing Djibril Sow to drift in behind and collect a one-two from Jesper Lindstrom. Areola made a fine save from Sow’s effort but could not stop the ball from falling to the feet of Kamada to tap in.
West Ham were having to battle back once more.
Moyes sent Said Benrahma on for Manuel Lanzini to add a bit of zip to their pursuit of a leveller and the Algerian quickly sett about his task, winning a free-kick before bending a shot onto the post from the edge of the box.
Tensions were rising though and Rice was picking fights with Frankfurt players off the ball after West Ham attacked while a visiting player was down injured.
Just as he was rowing and barging Kamada, the Japan international slipped away from the England midfielder and was clear to run at Craig Dawson - whose outstretched leg turned his effort onto the post.
After a sapping few weeks, West Ham simply didn’t have enough to find another leveller. Passes were found wanting, a Bowen header skewed over the bar and Moyes was left with his head in his hands through wasteful possession.
It is the finest of margins which matter at this level. Trapp’s boot could have decided this tie and you certainly know it is not your night when a brilliant Bowen overhead kick rattles the bar and bounces the wrong way from goal.
West Ham have defied doubters before, now they are left facing another almighty task.