Pienaar desperate for Euro spot

Jan Vertonghen believes Tottenham are on the verge of achieving

something special this season as they close in on a top-four spot

in the Premier League.

Vertonghen has compared to what is happening at White Hart Lane

to the Belgium national side, who are looking to qualify for the

World Cup for the first time since 2002, as both look to overcome

major mental hurdles.

The 25-year-old, who joined from Ajax last summer, is positive

that Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas now has a side with the qualities

to compete against the likes of north London neighbours

Arsenal.

He told the Observer: “I have the same feeling at Tottenham that

I do with Belgium, that we are in a strong team and we’re getting

stronger, that we’re on the verge of something.

“A few results have helped us. We won at Manchester United and,

with Belgium, we beat Holland at home.

“Everybody can feel that Spurs are getting stronger, not only

inside the club but also at other clubs. Even in the Belgium team,

we get the respect. Teams are not happy when they have to face

us.

“We look at ourselves but then we see the opponent is under

pressure, in trouble, and you want to take advantage of that. I

hope we can put them under a lot of pressure in the game.

“Because we are not the team who finished first or second for

the last 10 years, we are not under the pressure Arsenal are, but

we put ourselves under pressure because we deserve to be up there

and have the qualities to play in the Champions League.”

The Toffees’ hopes of claiming a place in the Champions League

took a knock in February but they still have an outside chance of

reaching fourth spot in the Premier League.

Even if they do not make it into the elite competition, they

should be strong contenders to bring continental football back to

Goodison Park via the Europa League, through league position or the

FA Cup.

Everton, sixth, boosted their league prospects with a 3-1 win

over struggling Reading on Saturday and are now looking forward to

a cup quarter-final against Wigan next weekend.

Pienaar, who scored a stunning second goal as the Royals were

overcome at Goodison, said: “Sometimes you have to go through the

back door, so there is a little less pressure on us now.

“We will see how the other teams do and hopefully we can sneak

in.

“I think it is fairly good to play in European competitions.

After the Premier League there are only two bigger cups – the

Europa League and the Champions League.

“All the players want to play in it and it is important for the

club to get European football.

“We will just see. The cup is the shortest route to European

football.

“Next week we are also at Goodison so hopefully this can be the

place that gives us the passport to European football.”

Everton have not played in Europe since the 2009-10 season and

Pienaar knows the fans would also enjoy the experience, even if the

travelling might not particularly appeal to him.

He said: “I think it is important for the supporters as well –

they enjoy going away. I’d rather stay at home with the

family!”

Everton are amid a run of five consecutive home games, the third

of which will be Wigan’s visit.

Victory over the Latics would secure a return to Wembley, where

Everton were beaten by neighbours Liverpool in last season’s FA Cup

semi-finals, but Pienaar is not thinking that far ahead yet.

The 30-year-old said: “We don’t have to talk about it now. The

most important thing is Wigan and it is not going to be an easy

hurdle to go past.

“That is important and at the final whistle maybe we can talk

about it.”

Everton will at least go into the game in positive mood after

the disappointment of last week’s late capitulation at Norwich.

Pienaar said: “It does give us a lot of confidence but the FA

Cup is going to be a totally different game.

“We all know it is not the same as the league. We are playing

against good opposition, so it is going to be hard. With the 12th

man behind us hopefully we can go all the way.”

Everton were deserved victors over the Royals although the game

was evenly contested until the influential Marouane Fellaini headed

them ahead after 43 minutes.

Pienaar doubled the advantage with a long-range strike just

before the hour and Kevin Mirallas made victory certain with a neat

finish.

Reading, who hit the woodwork early on through Adam Le Fondre,

battled on and Hal Robson-Kanu grabbed a consolation.

The only downside for Everton was the loss of England defender

Phil Jagielka with a badly gashed ankle, which later required

surgery, after a clumsy tackle from Le Fondre in the opening

minutes.

Defeat left Reading in the bottom three although results

elsewhere did not significantly worsen their position.

They now face relegation rivals Aston Villa in a critical game

at the Madejski Stadium next week before tough away trips to

Manchester United and Arsenal.

Manager Brian McDermott remains positive and sees last season’s

late charge to promotion as a good omen.

McDermott said: “I just hope our fans can stick with us because

we might do it, you just never know.

“Last season we were written off pretty early. We’ve been

written off before and we’ll probably be written off again.

“We need a real vibrant atmosphere next week and we need to make

sure we give the fans something early in the game, and they can

really get behind the team.

“I thought we played some good football on the front foot at

Everton, which is never easy.

“We are going to need our fans next week and we are hopeful we

will get a good following and everyone sticks by us.”