Four more points for European spot

WEST HAM UNITED boss Gianfranco Zola is convinced that 52 points will be enough for the Hammers to book their place in the revamped Europa League, writes DAVE EVANS. The little Italian was making his claim on the eve of the Stoke City clash and with victo

WEST HAM UNITED boss Gianfranco Zola is convinced that 52 points will be enough for the Hammers to book their place in the revamped Europa League, writes DAVE EVANS.

The little Italian was making his claim on the eve of the Stoke City clash and with victory being secured in that match, it seems that West Ham need just four more points to be playing on the continent next season.

"I still believe 52 points should make it," insisted Zola. "There are no easy games at this stage of the season, but we will see."

Qualifying for Europe can be a double-edged sword. The extra games that you have to play can be a strain on the squad for little reward, unless you can reach the final stages of the gruelling competition.


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But Zola is convinced of the benefits of playing on the European stage.

"I wouldn't want to go in just for the participation," explained the manager.

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"Maybe we won't be able to win, but we would try very hard. Maybe other teams have doubts because they know how many games they have to play, and I realise it's a big task, but I have some young players and to play in Europe would be a big thing for them and it would improve them."

Zola certainly feels that playing in Europe would help his youngsters development.

"Football, like everything, is about knowledge. The more you see and compete with different players, the more you learn," he said.

"It happened to me, as soon as I started playing international football, the level of my game went up so much.

"I believe it is going to be the same for my players."

West Ham have to get there first and with three teams breathing down their necks just a point behind them, it is not going to be easy.

Merseyside will certainly hold one of the keys to success.

Liverpool travel to West Ham on Saturday, but also entertain Spurs on the final day, while Everton have still to play Spurs and Fulham as well as the Hammers.

The only game between the four teams vying for seventh spot is between Tottenham versus Manchester City on May 16, and that could work in West Ham's favour.

If Zola feels they need another four points, then he is undoubtedly banking on beating relegation-haunted Middles-brough on the final day.

That means either a point against Liverpool or at Everton, something which is surely not beyond them.

The trouble is, even that might not be enough.

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