Man City Women manager Nick Cushing is relishing to chance to test himself and his players in the Champions League.
The Blues kick off their maiden European adventure with their Round of 32 first-leg tie against Russian outfit Zvezda Perm at the Academy Stadium on Thursday (7pm), on the back of a league and cup double.
Cushing admitted his side are entering unknown territory but asserted they will approach the game as they would any other – with a willingness to win and play attacking, attractive football.
“Champions League is where this club wants to be,” he told press. “We want to pit ourselves against the best and show we have the ability to be the best. We’ve earned the right to be in the Champions League but it’s a brand new experience for us and we’ll have to be the best team we can be.”
On what he expects from 2009 finalists Zvezda, he explained: “We’ve managed to get some recent [footage of] games of theirs which has helped.
“They’re a tough team. We'll take them very seriously. They’ve qualified for many years and they were in the final not so long ago. They play in a similar style to us so we’ll prepare for that.
“We don’t change the way we play – we have a real clarity in what we expect. We’re prepared to go into any game. This is a different level now but we’re in good form, playing well and we need to make sure we perform on the day.
“If we do what we’ve done this season, we’ll give ourselves more of a chance. If we continue to improve, we’ll have an even better chance.
“We have to be competitive in this competition. That means holding our own against teams.
“We’ve had a good week since the final and we’re ready.”
Captain Steph Houghton played in Europe with Arsenal, and hopes she can use her experience to the team’s benefit.
“It’s a totally different level of football,” she declared. “You have to make sure you’re the best team on the day. You don’t get many second chances.
“The last time I played in the Champions League, I was playing in midfield and at right-back! Coming to this club, I feel I’ve matured as a person and a player. It will be good to test myself against the best strikers in Europe, but it’s not just about the opposition – we have to look out for ourselves.
“We have to make sure we take our chances and stop them scoring. Hopefully, the fact some of us have played in the Champions League will allow us to help the girls who are making their debuts.
“Thursday night’s game will be a pretty special moment. This is a competition we want to play in. We’ve had a successful season so far but we want to play against the best. It all starts here.
“This will be a new experience and we need to focus on these games as much as we can. Hopefully, we can take momentum, confidence and ability forward. We haven’t been beaten in the league in 18 months – that record speaks for itself.”
When asked how the players felt about the possibility of extending the season, should City progress, Houghton replied: “The ultimate aim at the start of the season was to win the league and qualify for the Champions League. If it keeps being a long season, I don’t care - if that means we're being successful.”
With the Zvezda home clash being broadcast live on Facebook, powered by Nissan, she continued: "We’ve experienced being on Facebook Live at the Doncaster and Arsenal games.
"It’s great that fans worldwide can watch us play and it’s great we’re reaching out to those people. It’s an exciting time to be at this football club and it’s important we keep performing the way we have been so people can see what this club is about.”