x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Zola dreaming of the Champions League

The domination of the Premier League over Serie A in last week's Champions League fixtures came as no surprise to Gianfranco Zola.

The domination of the Premier League over Serie A in last week's Champions League fixtures came as no surprise to Gianfranco Zola. The West Ham manager knows more than most about the rival leagues, having made his name in Italian football before moving to Chelsea, where he quickly forged a reputation as one of British football's best-loved imports. Zola, though, was unequivocal in anointing the English game as Europe's dominant force after watching the Blues, Arsenal and Manchester United all triumph against Serie A representatives to make the quarter-finals.

"It is a great moment for English football right now," said Zola, who welcomes West Brom to Upton Park this evening. "In this country you can see that the top teams are producing results, quality football and big performances - not only at home but abroad and internationally. "The football played in this country is the most competitive in Europe so it's not a surprise to me that the English sides went through against the Italians.

"They prepare the teams and the player to a higher level and that is why they are cruising in Europe, not just against the Italian teams but the Spanish also." Zola's side have strong designs on entering continental competition next season themselves, with seventh place likely to be enough to book a place in the Europa League. And the Hammers manager is also daring to dream of taking the club to the next level.

"Of course I hope one day to be there, competing with them in the Champions League," he added. "We will see though, it depends how well I work, how well I do my job and how well the team do their job but that is one of the targets we have. "It might be possible that seventh spot is enough for Europe this season and that would be a great thing for this club. Not just for the club to be in Europe, but for the players to play games internationally makes them better.

"I played many times as a player in European competition and I know how it can make a player better to play those kind of games." Zola admits it has not always been plain sailing since taking over from Alan Curbishley at the Boleyn Ground, but he praised his squad for their positive attitude when faced with adversity earlier in the season. He continued: "I remember a time this season when we went to play Sunderland away and we were two points from the bottom. We won that day.

"Now we are playing very well and that is down to the mental strength we showed in those times. "The plan is still to strengthen the team this summer. But first of all we need to achieve our targets this year, then we can think about going on and pushing the team on." * With agencies