The likes of Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla will know better than to judge West Ham on the basis of this low-key defeat. There was nothing riding on this for David Moyes’s side, who had already reached the last 16, and there is no chance that they will think back to losing to Dinamo Zagreb when they resume their European adventure in March.
This was a night for experimentation. There was an unfamiliar look to West Ham, who gave opportunities to seven homegrown talents, and Moyes could take heart from the fact that Dinamo needed a wonder goal from Mislav Orsic to advance to the Europa League’s play-off round.
Untouchable at the top of Group H, West Ham had the luxury of taking it easy before visiting Burnley on Sunday. Michail Antonio, Jarrod Bowen, Lukasz Fabianski, Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice were given a welcome rest and the intrigue lay in whether a side containing five raw youngsters would be capable of handling Dinamo, who still needed a point to finish second and guarantee progress to the revamped knockout phase.
Experienced at this level, Dinamo were not in a mood to show mercy on West Ham’s youthful back four. There were only four minutes on the clock when the wily Orsic, whose goals knocked Tottenham out of this competition last season, collected a throw on the left, ambled inside and pondered what to do next. Nothing appeared to be on, but Orsic has a wonderful strike in his locker and, when Andriy Yarmolenko backed off, that was the invitation the forward needed to unleash a vicious, wobbling drive that dipped and swerved beyond Alphonse Areola’s dive.
The kids who made up West Ham’s back four had seen the difference between youth football and the real thing. Dinamo were firmly in control. Their football was intricate and there were difficult moments for West Ham as the opening period wore on. Luka Ivanusec worked Areola from the edge of the area and Orsic almost stole in for a second when Aji Alese, a 20-year-old making his second start at centre-back, failed to communicate properly with Harrison Ashby, a promising 20-year-old right-back.
To their credit, though, West Ham stuck at it. Emmanuel Longelo, 20, was diligent at left-back, albeit fortunate when Arijan Ademi headed a decent chance over. Jamal Baptiste, one of the most highly rated teenagers in England, was bringing the ball out confidently from centre-back. On the right, meanwhile, there was plenty of adventure from Ashby, who created West Ham’s best chance of the half when he crossed for Sonny Perkins to head over at the far post.
West Ham offered little in attack beyond that moment. It was not a surprise that they lacked a presence with Perkins leading the line on his full debut. To put it into context, the 17-year-old was 196 days old when Mark Noble made his debut for West Ham in a League Cup win over Southend at Upton Park on 24 August 2004.
Noble, who walked home that night, was in central midfield here, still going strong at 34. Next to the captain was Alex Kral, who is yet to make an impact since joining on loan from Spartak Moscow. This felt like a big opportunity for Kral, although it did not exactly help his cause that he spent most of his time covering for Yarmolenko, who spent most of the first half infuriating his teammates with a series of bewildering decisions in the final third.
West Ham needed more from their senior players in the second half. Said Benrahma came on for Pablo Fornals at half-time and the onus was on Nikola Vlasic, who has been a quiet presence since his £30m move from CSKA Moscow last summer, to offer more creativity in the final third.
Vlasic certainly tried. Nothing quite happened for him, though. West Ham created little and Dinamo continued to threaten, Ivanusec feeding Orsic to test Areola from 20 yards.
By the end, there was a sense of inevitability about the outcome. The Croatian champions were comfortable. Moyes, who gave late debuts to Keenan Forson and Freddie Potts, whose father, Steve, and older brother, Dan, both played for West Ham, was thinking about his team’s future.