Premier League leaders Liverpool will face Sparta Prague in the last 16 of the Europa League, while Brighton face another glamour tie against Roma.

The Reds will travel to the Czech capital for the first leg on March 7, before a return at Anfield a week later in a competition Liverpool have won three times in the past.

Brighton’s maiden European campaign takes them to the Italian capital after they topped Group B containing Marseille, Ajax and AEK Athens.

Europa Conference League holders West Ham face German team Freiburg, while Rangers are up against two-time European champions Benfica from Portugal.

The Europa League final will take place in Dublin on May 22.

Liverpool reached the knockout phase of Europe’s second-tier competition by topping Group E.

Sparta are the reigning Czech champions and qualified for the knockout round play-off by finishing second in Group C. The clubs met in this competition back in 2011.

Brighton face a Roma side which reached the last 16 with a penalty shoot-out victory over Feyenoord in a play-off on Thursday night. The Giallorossi are in transition following the decision last month to sack Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho.

West Ham will feel confident of overcoming Freiburg, having beaten them home and away in the group stage earlier this season, while Scottish Premiership Rangers met Benfica in the Europa League group stage in 2020-21.

Aston Villa were drawn to face Dutch giants Ajax in the last 16 of the Europa Conference League.

Villa progressed as Group E winners and now face the Amsterdam club, who have been champions of Europe four times.

Ajax signed England midfielder Jordan Henderson last month, although he did not feature as they beat Norwegian side Bodo Glimt in extra time to progress from the knockout play-off round.

The first leg will be played in Amsterdam on March 7, with the return at Villa Park on March 14. The Conference League final takes place in Athens on May 29.

Chelsea will play Ajax in the Women’s Champions League quarter-finals, with defending champions Barcelona potential opponents in the semis.

Emma Hayes’ side will play the first leg of the last-eight tie in the Netherlands on March 19 or 20 before hosting the second the following week.

The winner will then over two legs in April face the victors of the quarter-final between Barca – 3-2 winners against Wolfsburg in the 2022-23 final for their second title – and Norwegian outfit Brann.

Chelsea, whose best run in the competition came when they were runners-up in 2021, losing 4-0 to Barca in the final, are aiming for glory in what is the final season of Hayes’ lengthy tenure before she steps down as boss to take charge of the United States national team.

The Blues were unbeaten as they topped Group D, which also featured Hacken, Paris FC and Real Madrid, while Ajax were second in Group C.

The other quarter-finals see record eight-time champions Lyon face Benfica and Paris St Germain take on Hacken.

The final is set to take place at Athletic Bilbao’s San Mames on May 25.

England boss Gareth Southgate watched from the stands as Jordan Henderson made his “special” Ajax debut in a 1-1 draw against PSV Eindhoven.

Former Liverpool captain Henderson played the full 90 minutes at the Johan Cruyff Arena as Steven Berghuis’ opener for Ajax was cancelled out by Luuk de Jong.

Henderson joined Ajax in mid-January after spending less than six months at Saudi Arabian club Al-Ettifaq, but his first appearance was delayed while he waited for a work permit.

The England midfielder said of Southgate’s visit: “Hopefully he picked a good game and he enjoyed the game.”

He added: “The atmosphere was incredible. Obviously it was a special day for me and my family.

“To represent this football club for the first time. That was special. And to play in this stadium was really special.”

De Jong equalised for PSV before half-time after Berghuis had given Ajax a 19th-minute lead.

Ajax trail runaway leaders PSV by 21 points in the Eredivisie table, but Henderson was delighted to have made his first appearance.

“I think there’s still a lot to improve on, but it’s been a privilege and an honour to play for this club,” Henderson told a post-match press conference.

“Unfortunately we couldn’t finish it in the end. But we’ve got a point to move on from.

“PSV have an amazing team, they’ve been unbeaten all season. But I thought we had some good chances to win the game towards the end. But unfortunately we couldn’t find the back of the net.”

Former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson made his Ajax debut as the Amsterdam outfit held Eredivisie leaders PSV Eindhoven to a 1-1 draw on Saturday.

The England international, who moved to the Netherlands last month after cutting short his controversial stint in Saudi Arabia, played the full 90 minutes for John van ‘t Schip’s side.

Ajax, who trail the runaway leaders by 21 points, struck first through Steven Berghuis but were pegged back by a Luuk de Jong equaliser.

Girona missed the chance to reclaim top spot in LaLiga as they were held to a goalless draw by Real Sociedad.

Victory over sixth-placed Sociedad would have taken the Catalan surprise package back above Real Madrid at the summit but they were unable to break down their visitors in a stalemate at the Estadi Montilivi.

The result gives Madrid the chance to move four points clear when they take on city rivals Atletico at the Bernabeu on Sunday.

Third-placed Barcelona gained ground as they won 3-1 at Alaves despite the sending off of Vitor Roque.

Goals from Robert Lewandowski and Ilkay Gundogan put Barca in control. Samu Omorodion pulled one back but Roque settled the contest just after the hour before he was later dismissed for two bookable offences.

Bottom side Almeria remain 11 points adrift of safety after losing 2-1 at Valencia but fellow strugglers Granada claimed a point with a 1-1 draw against Las Palmas.

Bayer Leverkusen maintained top spot in the Bundesliga with a 2-0 win at bottom side Darmstadt but Bayern Munich, with Harry Kane again on the scoresheet, came from behind to keep up the pressure.

Nigeria international Nathan Tella scored in each half for Xabi Alonso’s unbeaten leaders Leverkusen but Bayern stayed within two points as they recovered from a slow start to beat Borussia Monchengladbach 3-1.

Nico Elvedi put Monchengladbach ahead at the Allianz Arena but Aleksandar Pavlovic levelled and Kane headed Bayern in front with his 24th league goal of the season before Matthijs de Ligt wrapped up the points.

Third-placed Stuttgart scored twice in the first seven minutes, through Deniz Undav and Chris Fuhrich, on their way to a 3-1 win at 10-man Freiburg. Maximilian Mittelstadt claimed their third after the sending off of Merlin Rohl.

AC Milan scored twice in the final 18 minutes to cut the gap to second-placed Juventus in Serie A to four points with a 3-2 win at Frosinone.

Luca Mazzitelli had given the home side a 2-1 lead after the hour but Matteo Gabbia levelled and Luka Jovic won it for Milan nine minutes from time.

Olivier Giroud opened the scoring for Milan in the first half but Matias Soule replied from the penalty spot.

Struggling Empoli claimed a point with a 0-0 draw at home to Genoa while the clash between Udinese and Monza also ended in a goalless stalemate. Bologna beat Sassuolo 4-2 in the day’s late game.

In Ligue 1, Rennes won 2-1 at Montpellier and Lens claimed a 1-0 win at Nantes.

Jordan Henderson hinted at regrets over his move to Saudi Arabia as he was formally unveiled as an Ajax player on Friday.

The former Liverpool captain quit Saudi Pro League outfit Al-Ettifaq this week less than six months into a lucrative three-year deal.

The 33-year-old has faced fierce criticism over his career choices since last summer and, for the first time, he came close to admitting an error as he was presented at a press conference in Amsterdam.

“In life if you want to call them regrets or mistakes, you can call them that,” Henderson said at a press conference in Amsterdam. “But, at the same time, they’re only mistakes if you don’t learn from them.

“Looking back, at the time, obviously it was a big decision. It was a decision I felt was right for me and my family at the time, but things happen. Things change quickly in football.

“I had to make another decision and this is the one I felt was right decision for me. I felt the opportunity was too big to turn down, playing at this great football club.”

The failure of Henderson’s move to Saudi Arabia has not only negatively affected his reputation but also that of the country’s football league.

Henderson did not criticise the standard of the competition or the lifestyle he has experienced in recent months, but neither did he offer a ringing endorsement to any other players weighing up a switch.

Henderson, who has signed a two-and-a-half year deal at Ajax, said: “I would definitely not sit here and speak badly of the league or the clubs or anything like that. I’ve got full respect for the opportunity that I was given to go there.

“But everyone’s different. You look at people who are there, big players who are there now, who are loving every second of it, staying there for a long period of time.

“But you might get others that don’t settle or something happens in their private life, whatever it may be, and things change quickly.”

On his decision to leave, he added: “It had nothing to do with anything else other than a football decision. I felt it was a perfect opportunity for me to come to such a huge club.”

Having previously been a strong advocate of LGBTQ+ rights, Henderson was widely condemned for moving to Saudi Arabia, where same-sex relationships are illegal.

The huge wages he was reportedly offered also brought criticism he was putting money before morals.

He was booed by England supporters when he returned home to play for the international side last autumn.

The midfielder concedes that whole experience has been a bruising one.

“I’m not going to say I haven’t been hurt,” he said. “I understand it, but I do care. People might think I don’t but I actually do care about other people.

“I do think a lot about football and how I treat other people and have respect for other people. So it does hurt, of course, but at the same time I totally respect their opinions and how they view me as a person.

“I just had to obviously take it on the chin and that’s all I’ve continued to do. I’ve never tried to hurt anybody. That was never my intention, ever.

“If people feel a type of way towards me then all I can do is apologise for that. I’m hurt but it’s part and parcel of life and football.

“It makes you stronger and I just want to concentrate on getting back to playing football with Ajax and doing my best for this football club.”

Henderson will not be eligible to make his Ajax debut at home to RKC Waalwijk this weekend as he awaits a work permit but he is eager to get started.

He said: “I’ll eat, breathe and sleep Ajax and dedicate myself every single day, every single session to try to be better and help this team and this club be better.”

Jordan Henderson apologised for any hurt felt by the LBGT community over his move to Saudi Arabia outfit Al-Ettifaq at his Ajax welcome press conference in Amsterdam.

Henderson moved to Al-Ettifaq from Liverpool on a three-year contract last summer, and his decision to go to Saudi Arabia, where same-sex relationships are illegal, caused controversy in the UK as he had previously been a high-profile supporter of LGBTQ+ rights.

“If any people from that community feel let down or hurt I apologise,” said Henderson.

“If anyone was offended or feel as though I upset them, that’s on me, that was my decision and I apologise for that. It was never my intention.

“I just want to look forward now and concentrate on being the best player I can for Ajax. My beliefs have never changed and never will. Again I can only apologise if people feel let down.”

Henderson, 33, has signed a two-and-a-half year deal with the Eredivisie club after failing to settle at Saudi side Al-Ettifaq, who he joined six months ago and he described his move to Ajax as the “perfect opportunity” after cutting short his spell in Saudi Arabai.

“(Ajax) is one of the biggest clubs in the world, the biggest club in Holland and I felt as though it’s a great opportunity for me personally to come to a huge club, to try and help this club go forward and be as successful as possible.”

Henderson denied that there was a financial element to his decision to move to a Dutch club rather than return to England, and said he wanted to help Ajax – struggling by their standards in fifth place – return to the top.

“Don’t believe what you read in the press,” he said. “It had nothing to do with anything but football. I felt it was the perfect opportunity to come to such a huge club and showcase what I’ve tried to do my whole life – to dedicate myself to football.

“The welcome here has been incredible and I’m overwhelmed to be given the opportunity at a great football club and to repay the faith shown in me.

“Over the next two-and-a-half years I will give everything to get the club back on track and to be as successful as possible.”

Jordan Henderson has described his move to Ajax as the “perfect opportunity” after cutting short his spell in Saudi Arabia.

Henderson, 33, has signed a two-and-a-half year deal with the Eredivisie club after failing to settle at Saudi side Al-Ettifaq, who he joined six months ago.

“(Ajax) is one of the biggest clubs in the world, the biggest club in Holland and I felt as though it’s a great opportunity for me personally to come to a huge club, to try and help this club go forward and be as successful as possible.”

Jordan Henderson admitted the past six months have been difficult for him as he joined Ajax after Saudi club Al-Ettifaq agreed to terminate his contract.

Henderson moved to Al-Ettifaq from Liverpool on a three-year contract last summer, and his decision to go to Saudi Arabia, where same-sex relationships are illegal, caused controversy in the UK as he had previously been a high-profile supporter of LGBTQ+ rights.

He subsequently apologised for any hurt caused, but was booed off the pitch at Wembley during an England friendly against Australia in October.

Al-Ettifaq, who are managed by Steven Gerrard, confirmed they had reached an amicable settlement with the 33-year-old to leave the club, and Ajax announced on Thursday the England midfielder had signed a two-and-a-half-year deal with the Amsterdam outfit.

He is set to be unveiled on Friday at 13:00 (GMT).

Henderson, who captained Liverpool to Champions League and Premier League success, hopes the move to Ajax proves beneficial for both himself and the club.

He told the official Ajax website: “It’s been a difficult year or so for the club, both on and off the field, but that’s the same for me in the past six months.

“So hopefully we can help each other come together and help each other go forward and try and be as successful as possible in the near future.

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, crazy few days, but I’m just so excited now to be here, to start a new chapter, a new journey in my life and my career and I’m just so excited to be here and part of this club.

“Once I knew that there was an opportunity, I was overexcited and really overwhelmed that this opportunity was there for me. It was something that I wanted to try and make happen.”

 

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Henderson added on Instagram: “I’m sad to say that I will be leaving Al-Ettifaq with immediate effect. It wasn’t an easy decision but one that I feel is best for me and my family.”

The move to Ajax was completed after Henderson, who has 81 England caps, finalised terms and underwent a medical on Thursday.

A statement from the Dutch club read: “Ajax has reached an agreement with Jordan Henderson on his transfer to Amsterdam.

“The free agent, former Sunderland and Liverpool player, signed a contract at Ajax lasting two-and-a-half years, until June 30, 2026.”

Henderson is unlikely to be able to make his Ajax debut against RKC Waalwijk as he is still awaiting international clearance.

Ajax are currently fifth in the Eredivisie, having recovered from a poor start to the new domestic campaign which saw previous head coach Maurice Steijn depart after just 11 games in charge.

The move could enhance Henderson’s hopes of securing a place in the England squad for Euro 2024 this summer.

Ajax coach John van’t Schip told the club’s website: “We wanted an experienced midfielder with leadership qualities.

“Partially due to injuries in the team, we were looking for someone who could step in immediately. Jordan Henderson is that type of player.

“His arrival means a huge enhancement for our squad. Both on and off the pitch, a football player of this calibre is important for our many young players.

“He’s an English international player and has won the Champions League and many other prizes with Liverpool. I am happy he’s here.”

Jordan Henderson has joined Ajax after Saudi club Al-Ettifaq agreed to terminate his contract.

Ajax announced on Thursday the England midfielder had signed a two-and-a-half year deal with the Amsterdam outfit.

Henderson joined Al-Ettifaq from Liverpool on a three-year contract last summer but has opted to cut his stay in the Middle East short.

Al-Ettifaq, who are managed by Steven Gerrard, confirmed they had reached an amicable settlement with the 33-year-old.

A statement from the Dutch club read: “Ajax has reached an agreement with Jordan Henderson on his transfer to Amsterdam.

“The free agent, former Sunderland and Liverpool player, signed a contract at Ajax lasting two-and-a-half years, until June 30, 2026.”

The signing was completed after Henderson, who has 81 England caps, finalised terms and underwent a medical earlier on Thursday.

Ajax coach John van’t Schip told the club’s website: “We wanted an experienced midfielder with leadership qualities.

“Partially due to injuries in the team, we were looking for someone who could step in immediately. Jordan Henderson is that type of player.

“His arrival means a huge enhancement for our squad. Both on and off the pitch, a football player of this calibre is important for our many young players.

“He’s an English international player and has won the Champions League and many other prizes with Liverpool. I am happy he’s here.”

The move became possible after Al-Ettifaq agreed to Henderson’s request to leave.

A statement read: “Al-Ettifaq FC of the Roshin Saudi League and Jordan Henderson have today mutually agreed to terminate the player’s contract with the club with immediate effect.

“The decision follows an amicable conclusion to the relationship with the player.”

Club president Samer Al Misehal added: “The club and Jordan believe this quick decision, without any delay or further distraction, has been made for the overall good of the club and Jordan.”

Henderson said there were no hard feelings about the matter.

He said in a statement issued by Al-Ettifaq: “I’d like to thank the club, the fans and all involved for the opportunity and wish them the best for the remainder of the season.

“A lot of hard work is going on which I know will pay off in the future.”

Henderson’s move to Saudi Arabia, where same-sex relationships are illegal, caused controversy in the UK as he had previously been a high-profile supporter of LGBTQ+ rights.

He subsequently apologised for any hurt caused but was booed off the pitch at Wembley during an England friendly against Australia in October.

Henderson is unlikely to be able to make his Ajax debut against RKC Waalwijk as he is still awaiting international clearance.

Ajax are currently fifth in the Eredivisie, having recovered from a poor start to the new domestic campaign which saw previous head coach Maurice Steijn depart after just 11 games in charge.

The move could enhance Henderson’s hopes of securing a place in the England squad for Euro 2024 this summer.

Jordan Henderson has completed his move from Al-Ettifaq to Ajax, the Dutch club have confirmed.

It comes after the Saudi Pro League club agreed to terminate the England midfielder’s contract.

Henderson, 33, joined Al-Ettifaq from Liverpool last summer but has decided to cut his stay in the Middle East short. He has signed a two-and-a-half year deal with the Amsterdam outfit.

A statement from the Dutch club read: “Ajax has reached an agreement with Jordan Henderson on his transfer to Amsterdam.

“The free agent, former Sunderland and Liverpool player, signed a contract at Ajax lasting two-and-a-half years, until June 30, 2026.”

England midfielder Jordan Henderson has arrived in Amsterdam to finalise his move from Saudi Arabian club Al-Ettifaq to Ajax.

The 33-year-old former Liverpool captain was pictured arriving at Schiphol Airport and then being driven away by the club’s general manager Herman Pinkster.

Henderson is expected to have a medical before formalising the terms on what is reported to be a two-and-a-half-year deal, although he will take a substantial cut from his reported £350,000-a-week wages in Saudi Arabia.

However, he is unlikely to be able to feature against RKC Waalwijk on Sunday as reports suggest, as a non-EU national, Henderson’s work permit is likely to take up to two weeks to be granted.

Henderson signed for Al-Ettifaq in a lucrative but controversial move last summer as he was a high-profile supporter of LGBTQ+ rights during his time at Anfield.

He subsequently apologised for any hurt he caused by moving to a country where homosexuality is illegal, but was booed off the pitch at Wembley during an England friendly against Australia in October.

 

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Ajax are fifth in the Eredivisie table, having recovered from a poor start to the new domestic campaign which saw head coach Maurice Steijn depart after just 11 games in charge.

While Henderson is leaving Saudi Arabia, his former Liverpool team-mate and Al-Ettifaq manager Steven Gerrard is set to extend his stay.

The ex-Reds captain appeared to be under pressure with the side eighth and without a win in eight games but has reportedly agreed a two-year contract extension which could keep him at the club until 2027.

England midfielder Jordan Henderson appears set to travel to Amsterdam on Thursday to finalise his move from Saudi Arabian club Al-Ettifaq and join Ajax, according to reports.

Former Liverpool captain Henderson, 33, signed for Al-Ettifaq in a lucrative but controversial move last summer.

Henderson was a high-profile supporter of LGBTQ+ rights during his time at Anfield.

He subsequently apologised for any hurt he caused by moving to a country where homosexuality is illegal, but was booed off the pitch at Wembley during a friendly against Australia in October.

Having reportedly reached an agreement with Al-Ettifaq to terminate his contract, Henderson is expected to sign an initial 18-month deal at the Dutch giants, with an option for a further year’s extension.

Henderson is expected to have a medical and formalise the terms of his deal when he arrives in the Netherland on Thursday, but looks set to take a substantial wage cut from his reported £350,000-a-week package in Saudi Arabia.

Ajax are fifth in the Eredivisie table, having recovered from a poor start to the new domestic campaign which saw head coach Maurice Steijn depart after just 11 games in charge.

If Henderson’s deal can be completed in time, with international clearance and the relevant visa, then the England midfielder could be involved against RKC Waalwijk on Sunday.

England midfielder Jordan Henderson looks set to leave Saudi Arabian club Al-Ettifaq and join Ajax, according to reports.

Former Liverpool captain Henderson, 33, signed for Al-Ettifaq in a lucrative but controversial move last summer.

Henderson was a high-profile supporter of LGBTQ+ rights during his time at Anfield.

After he was booed off the pitch at Wembley during a friendly against Australia in October, Henderson subsequently apologised for any hurt he caused by moving to a country where homosexuality is illegal.

Dutch media report Henderson is set to head to Amsterdam to finalise a move to Ajax, having reached an agreement with Al-Ettifaq to terminate his contract.

Henderson is expected to sign an 18-month deal with the Dutch giants.

Ajax are fifth in the Eredivisie table, having recovered from a poor start to the new domestic campaign which saw head coach Maurice Steijn depart after just 11 games in charge.

Roberto De Zerbi admitted he is worried about Brighton’s growing injury problems after they took control of their Europa League destiny with a commanding 2-0 win away to Ajax.

Goals either side of half-time from Ansu Fati and Simon Adingra sealed victory in the Johan Cruyff Arena against the Dutch giants, who despite a change of manager showed little more ambition than they had in losing at the Amex Stadium two weeks previously.

But the result was marred by the loss of three players to injury as Lewis Dunk, James Milner and the returning Pervis Estupinan were all forced off.

De Zerbi has previously spoken of the toll that a first season in Europe has taken on his squad, with a hectic schedule having put pressure on a relatively small pool as the absentee list has lengthened.

Estupinan, who has already missed much of the campaign, left the field just 12 minutes after making his return as a substitute in the second half, with Milner also having gone off in the eighth minute.

Captain Dunk was withdrawn at half-time after pulling up with what looked like a groin problem, though the manager said he suspected it was not a serious concern.

Still, De Zerbi emphasised the havoc that injuries continue to wreak on his team.

“I’m very worried but it’s a problem we are fighting in this moment,” he said. “We have a lot of injuries, especially in the full-back position. For that we have to find another solution. We play Sunday another crucial game (against Sheffield United) for us and we want to win.

“I don’t know (about Dunk) at the moment. I think it’s not a big problem, but he’s played so many games in a row. We have to understand better the (injury).”

Despite the injuries, Brighton were able to celebrate yet another landmark under De Zerbi as they won for the first time away from home in Europe.

There were particularly fine displays in attack from goalscorers Fati and Adingra, whilst Evan Ferguson and Joao Pedro – the Europa League’s joint-top scorer at start of play with four – also impressed.

“I’m really delighted for the result, for the performance, for our fans,” said De Zerbi. “They were incredible and we are very happy because we made them happy.

“We have three top players – Ansu Fati, Joao Pedro and Evan Ferguson. We expect always a great job in ball possession, in the last 20 metres. But they are very young.

“Today I’m very happy for the performance of Joao. He fought 90 minutes. He didn’t score but he played a great game.

“I’m satisfied but I expect always more and more. For Ansu, he played very well in the first half but after the second goal I think he could play better. He could score the third goal.”

Jan Vertonghen believes Ajax have started to take steps towards a much-needed rebuild, though concedes things may get worse before they improve.

The 36-time Dutch champions have made an awful start to 2023-24, taking eight points from their first nine games of the Eredivisie season to sit 15th ahead of Sunday's meeting with Heerenveen.   

Maurice Steijn left his role as head coach by mutual consent with the club mired in 17th place last week, just four months after he joined from Sparta Rotterdam on a three-year deal.

Hedwiges Maduro then took charge as Ajax made unwanted history against PSV last Sunday, suffering a fifth successive Eredivisie defeat for the first time in their history as they were routed 5-2.

Ajax responded by appointing former winger John van 't Schip as interim coach this week, and his first game in charge resulted in a 2-0 win over FC Volendam on Thursday.

New boss Van 't Schip represented the club for 11 years as a player between 1981 and 1992, before returning as Marco van Basten's assistant coach in 2008.

While Vertonghen – who began his career with Ajax before leaving for Tottenham in 2012 – knows his old club have a long road ahead of them, he believes they have the right structure in place to bounce back.

"It hurts. Obviously, [Ajax] can't win the league every year, but where they are now is not good," Vertonghen, an Athlete Partner for APEX, told Stats Perform.

"It was bad on every level, but sometimes you have to hit lows to get back up. I think they're getting the structure back right. 

"Obviously, they've given a lot of power to someone who wasn't familiar with the culture at Ajax [Steijn]. In three or four months, a lot of damage was done. 

"Where they are now doesn't reflect the quality of the squad at all. Bringing in 13 or 14 new players and a new coach, it takes time, and at Ajax you don't get that time. You need to perform. Being second is not good enough. 

"They've got some people back at the club with Ajax in their heart, who want the best for Ajax. So, yeah, it will take a while, and hopefully they can get into Europe this year."

Vertonghen moved to his homeland to represent Anderlecht last September, but he endured a dismal first campaign with the 34-time Belgian champions, who finished 11th in the Pro League.

However, Anderlecht have bounced back under Brian Riemer this campaign, sitting second in the table ahead of back-to-back away games against title rivals Cercle Brugge and Gent.

Asked about Anderlecht's upturn, Vertonghen said: "Last year was a very, very bad and disappointing season, but we had a very good transfer window. 

"We made great signings, people that didn't really fit in left, and we brought in some young guys and experienced players; Kasper Schmeichel, for example, guys who want to win. 

"That's what we need. The atmosphere in the team is great. We have a very, very strong squad of 20 to 25 players. In Belgium, it works with a play-off system. If you get into the top six, you go through to the championship play-off, and that's our ambition: to be in that top six. 

"Whoever's in the top six can be champions. It's important for all the teams who have the ambition to achieve the highest things to be in that top six. 

"There are eight or nine teams fighting for that top six, and then we'll see. At the moment, we're second but still only a couple of points from seventh, so now we have two massive games.

"It's massive for us, two away games as well, so if you lose those two games, you can be seventh. That's how close it is, so we have to get at least four points out of those two games."

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