Football: Ince sets sights on place in European Cup

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The Independent Online
Despite defeat in the Uefa Cup on Tuesday, European ambitions still loom large at Anfield. Paul Walker reports.

Paul Ince has vowed to drive Liverpool back into Europe next season - in the Champions' League.

The Anfield captain underlined the feeling of anger and loss that followed the elimination from the Uefa Cup in the second round by Racing Strasbourg, a club only 14th in the French League. To be dumped by such a team has hurt the Reds, so used to nights of glorious success against far better teams than the one Strasbourg put out to protect their 3-0 lead from the first leg.

Ince was defiant, after Tuesday's 2-0 win for Liverpool saw his side go out 3-2 on aggregate. "It's disappointing to be out of Europe, it means so much to everyone at this club," he said. "We are absolutely gutted, mainly because we didn't feel we got the run of the ball when we needed it most in the second leg.

"Everyone is determined that we will be back in Europe next season, it is too important to this club. We must make sure we are in Europe again, with a good Premiership position that puts us in the Champions' League."

The Uefa Cup was a poor second prize for Liverpool at the end of last season, when for so long they had looked championship favourites. But their fade out at the end did not even ensure they finished second, allowing Newcastle to sneak in and grab the European Cup Champions' League place allocated to the runners-up.

Now Ince, who had an outstanding game in midfield alongside the equally impressive Jamie Redknapp, believes Liverpool have to get their act together in the championship race. He said: "We must get our heads up, concentrate on our games with the next one against Spurs on Saturday."

Ince believes Liverpool proved themselves a better team than Strasbourg. He said: "We lost the tie out there with our display in the first leg. Last season, before I was at Liverpool, the club lost in identical fashion against Paris St-Germain.

"But I believe we didn't get the chances in that one, this time we created four or five more openings, and with a display like that proved we are a better team than them. We didn't get what we deserved, we didn't get the run of the ball when it mattered. But we gave it everything, the fans were fantastic and we didn't get the extra goals we deserved."

The Liverpool manager, Roy Evans, reckons that the shambolic defeat in France in the first leg could serve as a turning point in a topsy-turvy season that sees his under-achieving side labouring behind the front runners - particularly Manchester United.

Evans said: "If we can keep working as hard as we did in the Strasbourg game, I know we can go on to better things in the League. The players are disappointed in the fact that we can be so inconsistent. But if they work as hard as that on a regular basis, you might not always play as well, but 99 times out of 100 you would get a result.

"I believe we can get there. Over the last three games since the first leg we have done much better. We beat Derby, it didn't quite go how we would have liked at Bolton but we still got a point, and now this one, I can ask for no more effort."

Evans reckons the tide could well have turned. He added: "We have been on the up since Strasbourg, particularly in the commitment of the players in training sessions and games. They have taken that responsibility and it has improved us in many ways.

"But the earlier form has put us out of the competition. But at least we have gone out with a fight, with all guns blazing. With a touch of fortune we would still be it. We must take credit from that.

"We took all the stick and the flak from the Strasbourg game, quite rightly, it was fair criticism. But I think the boys deserve the praise this time for the way the went about their job. We lost the tie over there, to come back from 3-0 is very difficult.

"I can only praise the lads for having the belief to go out there and think they can achieve the result we wanted."

Liverpool now face successive home games against two Premiership strugglers, Tottenham and Barnsley, with a Coca-Cola Cup tie at home against Grimsby sandwiched between those two games.