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Everton welcome Europa League test

Roberto Martínez thinks the UEFA Europa League is "the perfect next step" for Everton FC, with his side excited at the prospect of being "pushed to the limit" in Group H.

Roberto Martínez watches his side's weekend victory against West Brom
Roberto Martínez watches his side's weekend victory against West Brom ©Getty Images

Coach Roberto Martínez is relishing the opportunity to make his mark in the UEFA Europa League with Everton FC, with the prospect of a UEFA Champions League place lending even more gravitas to the competition.

Martínez led Everton to fifth place in his first season at Goodison Park after arriving from Wigan Athletic FC and, earning them a return to Europe for the first time since 2010. The Merseysiders find themselves in arguably the most challenging section, Group H, kicking off at home against last term's fifth-placed Bundesliga team, VfL Wolfsburg, on Thursday before also facing a LOSC Lille side who were third in France's Ligue 1 and Russia's FC Krasnodar. Yet Martínez is eager to embrace the challenge.

"We are not a team who wants to moan about the number of games or talk about the Europa League in a disrespectful manner," he said. "We worked really hard for 12 months to get in this position. The squad is ready. We're going to be stretched, pushed to the limit, but I do think that's the only way we can fulfil our potential and learn a lot about ourselves, facing teams like Wolfsburg and Lille and Krasnodar.

"We really want to go all the way in the Europa League," added the Spaniard, 41. "We're excited because I do feel that playing against German teams, French teams, and Russian teams will bring a completely different tactical approach and we will benefit from that."

Despite lacking the spending power of some of their Premier League rivals, Everton have finished in the top six on six occasions in the past ten years but only cracked the top four once in that time – in 2004/05. The reward for this season's UEFA Europa League winners is entry into the UEFA Champions League, providing a team like Everton with another possible route into the competition.

Martínez, speaking to the press after Everton's first win of the season at West Bromwich Albion FC on Saturday, stressed the importance of taking it one step at a time with a club whose only European honour was the 1985 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.

"Everton has to be in Europe," he said. "When I speak to the fans they have great memories of what they've done in Europe. It is a priority for us. I do feel maybe we were not ready for Champions League football, even though we fought hard to get into the top four. Realistically, we need to see how well we can do in the Europa League to see if one day we can get into the Champions League. I do believe in process and progress and it's the perfect next step."