Puel has Europe in his sights

Nice boss Claude Puel has talked up his side’s chances of

securing a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League, despite

admitting even he has been surprised by their recent progress.

Former Lyon coach Puel has guided Nice into fourth place in

Ligue 1, just a point and a place behind a Marseille team who

would, as it stands, play in Europe’s elite club competition in the

2013/14 campaign.

The 51-year-old initially set a timeframe of four to five years

before Nice could hope to challenge for a place in the Champions

League but he is optimistic they can maintain their unlikely

challenge, starting at St Etienne on Saturday.

He told

L’Equipe: “Early in the season we had a little fun when I

mentioned the target but it is normal to have ambition.

“This season things have been put in place more quickly than

expected but we will not choke.”

He accepts there remains a long way to go this season,

however.

“There are many games to play and a lot of unknowns,” he

added.

“It is not enough to say you are ambitious, you must also prove

it. And as we do not have the financial means we must prove it by

hard work and humility.”

Their ambition will certainly be tested against a St Etienne

side who have yet to lose in 2013.

Les Verts are one of the form teams in France but their

resurgence following a disappointing end to last year has not come

as a surprise to full-back Francois Clerc.

Clerc told the club’s

official website: “Not really because I knew we had a

quality squad.

“To be well-positioned in the table it is imperative to be

consistent and, apart from December, we have always been

successful.

“We are on a good run and we want to stay on it for as long as

possible.”