Hughes happy for Fulham to gain early return to the Europa trail

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The Independent Football

Fulham's manager, Mark Hughes, maintains the club will be "delighted" if they get into Europe next season through Uefa's Respect Fair Play ranking, despite the prospect of playing qualifiers next month.

Uefa announced on Monday that three countries had earned additional places in the Europa League next season – Norway, who finished top of the fair play table, followed by England and Sweden.

Fulham, the only team not to have had a player sent off in the league this season, look the most likely beneficiaries as they are in second spot in the Premier League's fair play table behind Chelsea, who have already qualified for the Champions League, with one match remaining.

Fulham, who host Arsenal on Sunday, reached the final of the Europa League last season under Roy Hodgson. Hughes, appointed in July after Hodgson left for Liverpool, would relish the opportunity of another crack at Europe, having guided Manchester City to the quarter-finals of the 2009 Uefa Cup.

"If we get into the competition, we will be delighted and we will try and progress as far as we can," Hughes said yesterday. "We are very close, but a lot of things have to fall into place before we can say we are playing in Europe next season, but if we are, we will give it a go.

"It is a difficult competition to negotiate because of the time frame and the amount of games you have to play. If you want to progress you have to come back very early and start playing football almost immediately when you come back."

Fulham's Northern Ireland international Aaron Hughes played in last season's Europa League final against Atletico Madrid, which the English side lost 2-1 in Hamburg. The 31-year-old defender would relish another crack at the competition, even if it means an early return to pre-season training.

"To play in Europe again would be a massive thing – the whole European experience was fantastic," he said. "Last time pre-season was basically competitive Europa League games and we came back very early."