José Fonte says qualification for the group stages of next season’s Europa League was the natural next step for Southampton.
Manchester United’s FA Cup win last Saturday against Crystal Palace meant Saints’ sixth-placed finish in the Barclays Premier League was enough to see them qualify for the group stages automatically.
For Fonte, who like everyone connected with the club was devastated at the way in which Saints were knocked out of last season’s European competition, is delighted with the progression.
“It’s a natural step, most definitely. Last year we didn’t manage to qualify for the group stages, so being there automatically is fantastic,” Fonte told saintsfc.co.uk.
“We’ll now have the chance to compete against some good teams in Europe.
“It’s going to be great for the fans to travel around Europe and hopefully we can go far in the competition.
“Being in the group stages gives us every chance of advancing in the competition. We’re pleased with that because it’s a good achievement.
“But there are still a lot of achievements we want to reach as a group.”
Fonte believes the opportunity for the squad to test themselves against some of the best teams on the European stage is an exciting challenge for everyone involved.
“We were all very pleased, because going directly into the group stages automatically gives us the opportunity to play six games in the Europa League,” Fonte added.
“Hopefully with a good draw we can play against some very good teams and test ourselves against the very best. It’s important for the club.
“It’s also important for the players. It’s another step forward for us and we’re all very pleased with that.”