Virgil van Dijk says he’s excited by the opportunity to play in Europe, as Southampton start their UEFA Europa League campaign against Sparta Praha at St Mary’s on Thursday.
The six game group sees Saints play European matches between their Premier League and domestic cup commitments between now and December, with Sparta’s visit sandwiched between two Premier League matches.
Claude Puel’s men are yet to pick up a win this season, but Van Dijk, who played in the Europa League previously with Glasgow Celtic, sees European football as a way to build some momentum in all competitions.
“We’re looking forward to it a lot, obviously,” he told reporters.
“As a club it’s amazing to be in this competition and Southampton have come from far, so to be in this competition right now is amazing, so we need to enjoy it, but still we have a lot of opportunities coming as well to get a result and maybe progress in the group, too.
“It’s the first upcoming game so we need to put full focus on that one and that’s what we’re doing,” he added.
“Obviously we want to win and we pay at home where hopefully we get a full house and play some good football to get our first win of the season.”
Although European football hasn’t been regularly on the agenda, Saints have an encouraging home record, which sees them undefeated in this competition since 1982. Van Dijk, however is choosing to focus on the here and now as Saints look to get their season up and running.
“I don’t like to look back a lot,” he said with a smile. “I think it’s going to be a good game. They’re a good side and we need to be ready for it which I think we are.
“We’ve trained well and we’ve analysed the opposition well, so I’m ready for it and I think the rest of the boys are as well.
“It starts tomorrow (Thursday) and I think with the group we are in at the moment and with the squad we have, we have opportunities, but at the end we still need to show it on the pitch. We’re still looking for our first win and hopefully we can get it tomorrow.”