By Alex Taylor
Slaven Bilic has set his sights on Europa League success this season as the Hammers prepare to take on Romanian champions Astra Giurgiu in a play-off tie on Thursday evening.
The east London outfit finished seventh in last season’s Premier League, and after Manchester United won the FA Cup, they qualified for Europe’s second-tier tournament.
West Ham have already beaten NK Domzale 4-2 on aggregate in their first qualifying round to reach this stage of the tournament.
“We will put out a strong team,” Bilic told Sky Sports. “We want to get to the group stages. These are two very important games for West Ham United.”
“We want to qualify. It’s a reward for a good season last year and only a few clubs from the Premier League are privileged to play in Europe. We are two games from the group stages and we want to participate.”
“We know it affects your chances in the next Premier League game but we want to try it. It’s good for everyone, it’s good for the players to play games against teams from different countries, they become better players.”
Astra beat the Hammers 2-1 in the competition last season but have had their coach, Marius Sumudica, suspended for the clash.
West Ham have never won a major European trophy and will be hoping to go all the way under their new Croatian boss.
Star player Dimitri Payet could start the game after featuring in his sides 2-1 loss to Chelsea on Monday evening.
New signing Jonathan Calleri is also in the squad for the fixture but the match is expected to come too soon for injured pair Andre Ayew and Sofiane Feghouli.