West Ham United put on a fantastic, fabulous, five-star performance to secure their place in tomorrow lunchtime’s UEFA Europa League quarter-final draw.
A goal adrift following last Thursday’s controversial last-16, first-leg defeat at Stadion am Wolfswinkel, the Hammers certainly came into this early evening kick-off with a job to do in the London Stadium return.
But they certainly made light work things against SC Freiburg to ensure their three-year, 35-match European adventure across 13 countries now continues into the last eight of this season’s competition. 
Lucas Paquetá quickly got the Hammers back on track with a ninth-minute opener before Jarrod Bowen – West Ham’s record European goal-getter – put David Moyes' side into an aggregate, interval lead with his 10th goal in continental club football.
Just after the break Aaron Cresswell – deputising for the injured Emerson – struck for the first time in almost two years to give the Hammers a yet more comfortable cushion, before African artist Mohammed Kudus supplied a beautiful gloss finish with two sensational strikes to well and truly erase the Germans from the competition
West Ham may have ended their barren, eight-game, winless start to 2024, with a three-match undefeated run in the Premier League but – despite having beaten Christian Streich’s side both home (2-0) and away (2-1) to top Group A before Christmas -  they had departed Freiburg seven days earlier, defeated and dejected.
Substitute Michael Gregoritsch had bagged an 81st-minute winner before Moyes boys were denied a stoppage-time penalty following Noah Weißhaupt’s handball and that defeat in in the foothills of the Black Forest had certainly seen the Hammers return to Stratford with a European hangover.
Following Sunday’s disappointing 2-2 draw with basement boys Burnley that left them in seventh place in the Premier League, the Scot now made a quartet of changes.
Cup keeper Łukasz Fabiański predictably took the gloves from substitute goalie Alphonse Areola, while skipper Kurt Zouma, Michail Antonio and Edson Álvarez earned recalls as Nayef Aguerd, Kalvin Phillips and James Ward-Prowse found themselves on the bench alongside rookie keeper Jacob Knightbridge - featuring in the senior squad for the first-time – and young George Earthy, whose late cameo appearance marked a debut for the teenager. 
Trailing to that Gregoritsch match-winner, West Ham wasted no time setting about the visitors, forcing three corners inside the opening eight minutes.
And after Manuel Gulde hastily scrambled behind to then concede the fourth just seconds later, the Hammers got themselves on level terms, when Cresswell’s flag-kick into the near post saw the stooping Tomàš Souček get in front of Nicolas Höfler.
The Czech Republic international’s header sent the ball skidding towards the far upright, where Paquetá ghosted behind the statuesque Vincenzo Grifo to gleefully slide home his seventh goal of the season.
Freiburg had sandwiched last week’s victory over the Hammers, between a confidence-boosting draw against Bayern Munich (2-2) and a weekend 2-1 win at VFL Bochum 1848 which had left them in eighth place in their domestic Bundesliga. 
Streich made just one change with Lucas Höler coming in for last week’s hero Gregoritsch and, having now seen his side’s home advantage evaporate, he also made for an animated figure in the technical area as Maximilian Eggestein slipped in Roland Sallai but instead of netting an instant equaliser, the Hungarian drilled across the face of goal.
That proved mere isolated German resistance, though, and after Kudus had drilled an angled 12-yarder wide, West Ham doubled their advantage on 31 minutes to take an aggregate lead, too.
Once again, Souček’s head played its part with the climbing Czech nodding the ball infield to Antonio, whose deft flick found Bowen.
Having outmuscled Christian Günter midway inside the Freiburg half, the Hammers No.20 celebrated that England call-up for the friendlies against Brazil and Belgium by advancing towards the edge of the area, where he unleashed a low 20-yarder past both Matthias Ginter and the outstretched left glove of keeper Noah Atubolu.
That was Bowen’s 18th strike of the season and the club’s record European goal-scorer had now also extended his tally into double figures in putting West Ham back on course for tomorrow’s high-noon draw.
With a fruitful first half edging towards its end, both Eggestein and Grifo forced Fabianski into routine saves but the Hammers were well worth their two-goal interval lead. 
Grifo’s low shot proved his final contribution of the evening but despite replacing him with Gregoritsch at the break, coach Streich did not get similar traction to last week’s dramatic substitution.
Indeed, within just seven minutes of the restart, the Freiburg boss had seen the tie slip even further away from the Germans.
This time, Kudus sent over a deep, left-wing centre that was only half cleared at the far post, leaving Bowen and Vladimír Coufal recycling the ball crossfield to Cresswell, who took a touch before slamming an unstoppable 15-yarder inside Atubolu’s left-hand upright. 
That was the cue for Freiburg to make four substitutions in quick succession, while Ward-Prowse stepped from the home bench to replace Paquetá who departed to a heroes reception ahead of Cresswell being booked for sliding into Kiliann Sildillia.
Substitute Florent Muslija let fly with a 25-yarder that thudded into Fabianski's ribcage before Álvarez clattered into Eggestein to collect his 14th yellow card in claret and blue but crucially his third in the Europa League that means he is now suspended for the quarter-final, first leg.
There was no such woe for Kudus, though, who then illuminated London Stadium with two wonderful late strikes.
On 77 minutes, the 32-cap Ghanaian international collected the ball inside his own half before leaving substitutes Gregoritsch and Lukas Kübler, plus Eggestein, trailing in his slipstream as he steamed through the centre circle deep into German territory.
Indeed, having left his breathless teammates behind, too, the rampaging Kudus continued alone before duly whipping a low 15-yarder beyond the helplessly exposed Atubolu and inside the base of the right-hand post. 
Having just staked a huge claim for the goal of the tournament and, with the claret and blue army still drooling at his incredible solo effort, Kudus then set about netting his second of the evening.
Despite already being home and hosed, the Hammers still galloped upfield, where Souček linked with Bowen and, upon collecting on the edge of the area, Kudus gently stroked the ball forward with the sole of his boot before sending a low 18-yarder into the net to both claim his 12th goal since his summer arrival from Ajax and seal a wonderful West Ham win.
West Ham United: Fabiański, Coufal, Cresswell, Zouma, Mavropanos, Souček, Álvarez (Phillips 86), Kudus (Ings 86), Paquetá (Ward-Prowse 62), Bowen (Earthy 86), Antonio (Johnson 79), Unused subs: Areola, Knightbridge, Ogbonna, Aguerd, Casey, Mubama, Orford.
SC Freiburg: Atubolu, Sildillia (Röhl 67), Gunter, Ginter, Gulde (Kübler 62),, Höfler (Muslija 62), Eggestein, Doan, Grifo (Gregoritsch h/t), Sallai, Höler (Phillip 67). Unused subs: Müller, Uphoff, Lienhart, Szalai, Keitel, Adamu, Makengo.
Booked: Cresswell (62), Álvarez (73).
Referee: Marco Guida (Italy).