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Football League

Championship play-offs: Gianfranco Zola claims Watford are ready for 'World Cup'

Zola makes his debut in the play-offs tonight when his Watford side take on Leicester City

Gianfranco Zola believes the pressure of the Championship play-offs can be compared to battling for the World Cup.

Zola makes his debut in the play-offs tonight when his Watford side take on Leicester City in the first leg of their tie to reach Wembley and play in a winner-takes-all final.

The winners are expected to pick up more than £100million by reaching the Premier League, making the next three games like cup finals for Zola's men. "I never played in the play-offs, that is for sure," Zola said. "I can only imagine the importance is more like playing a World Cup or a European Championship.

"It's a series of finals you are playing. You go step by step, making the most of each game and going to the next one trying to adapt to the situation. The most important thing is to go with the joy to compete - there are 18 teams that would like to be in the position we are."

Zola is hopeful of Manuel Almunia and Jonathan Bond being fit for tonight's first leg at the King Power Stadium. Their injuries led to defeat against Leeds United and ended hopes of automatic promotion – and the manager has backed his young squad to deal with the pressure of having so much at stake. "I take it in a positive way. I know if I want to be a successful manager I will have to get used to playing important game after important game," he said.

"If you only think about what you are playing for, the pressure will get on top of you. If we do the things we have been doing through the season we could be good enough to win."

Zola also insisted the club is ready for the Premier League despite being ahead of schedule in terms of progress since the Pozzo family took over last year. He said: "We were not planning for a season like this but the club is very well organised and they are ready to adapt to the new situation if it happens."

Kick-off 7.45pm TV Sky Sports 1

Referee N Swarbrick (Lancashire)

Odds Home 4-1 Draw 11-4 Away 8-11