Southampton vs Vitesse Arnhem: Saints can flourish in Europe, insists Ronald Koeman

Saints return to European football for the first time since 2003

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The Independent Football

Southampton manager Ronald Koeman says his side are ready for the challenges of Europa League football as they prepare to host Vitesse Arnhem in tonight's third-round qualifier.

The sell-out clash at St Mary's with the Dutchman's former club sees the Saints return to the continental stage for the first time since 2003.

Over a decade of kaleidoscopic fortunes including a spell in the third tier and the threat of liquidation comes to an end tonight after Koeman led his men to their best ever Premier League finish of 7th last year.

The former Ajax boss managed the visitors at the turn of the millennium, where he led the Eredivisie club into the UEFA Cup spot on a limited budget, and he believes his current side can progress to the group stages.

The Saints were relegated from the Premier League in 2005

“We know to reach the group stage we have to win two qualification rounds and it’s all about what we did last season,” Koeman said.

“We are looking forward, it’s for everybody; the fans, the club, the players.

“We are ready. It’s still not the start of the Premier League but the boys are in a good shape, physical way, strong.

Ronald Koeman led Southampton to their highest ever finish last term

“We saw in Holland last week what we can expect of the opponent and we are ready for the challenge, because we see it as a challenge to play in Europe.”

Southampton have recruited six new players this summer - Juanmi, Cedric Soares, Cuco Martina, Jordy Clasie, Maarten Stekelenburg and Steven Caulker - and are looking upwards rather than towards merely consolidating in the top half of the Premier League.