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Now proud Mark talks Turkey

Mark Hughes season 0809

Mark Hughes season 0809

Mark Hughes has declared himself and his team proud to be the last British club flying the flag in the UEFA Cup - and finally set his sights publicly on a May 20 final date in Istanbul.

City will be just four games away from that Turkish delight if they successfully defend their 2-0 first-leg lead over Aalborg in Denmark tomorrow to reach their first European quarter-final in 30 years.

And while their Barclays Premier League rivals Aston Villa and Tottenham both decided that the UEFA Cup was too low on their wish list, manager Hughes senses the prize is close enough to go all out for glory.

The Blues UEFA odyssey has already gone 13 matches with City showing trophy-winning form - their record of nine wins and two draws would be good enough to land a Champions League place sustained over a 38-match campaign.

Not bad for a club that finished ninth in the table last season but has lasted the course longer than the aristocrats of AC Milan, among a clutch of big names who have already fallen by the wayside.

Hughes admitted: "We only got in the competition because we won the Fairplay League. We're probably grateful to be in there, but it was an opportunity we wanted to take.

"Other clubs took a different view of the competition and prioritised the Premier League. We like to think we've concentrated on both. We're proud to be the last English club standing. We'd be even prouder to get to a European final.

"Did we think we'd do so well? When you looked at it from the start of the campaign there were some fantastic teams in there, even before the UEFA Cup drop-outs came in.

"So it's been an achievement up to this point - but we'd like to see something more substantial at the end of it. If we can keep going we will reap the benenfit, not just this season but in future in terms of experience."

European success would end a long barren spell and increase expectations that City could be the new Chelsea, only ten years after the Blues clambered out of the third tier in that famous Wembley play-off final.

Hughes, a former Chelsea striker, said: "I went there in 1995 and they hadn't won a trophy for 25 or so years. Then in the next three years we won three trophies and reached the Champions League. That was before the cash.

"We're working on a different basis here. We have to make sure we use our resources as well as we can by targeting the right players and strengthening infrastructure. But we have to walk before we sprint."

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Nedum Onouha 0809

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