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Everton on the cusp of Europa progress

Everton about an hour ago
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By ESPN Staff
Jan 31, 2008

Rafa confident of UCL berth despite latest loss

Rafael Benitez insists Liverpool can still qualify for next season's Champions League, despite another Premier League defeat at West Ham last night.

Mark Noble struck deep in stoppage-time at Upton Park to give the hosts a 1-0 victory, leaving Benitez's men without a league win since Boxing Day and virtually out of the title race.

They are 17 points off the pace in seventh place, only four points ahead of West Ham after Noble held his nerve.

But Benitez believes his side will at least qualify for Europe.

'Yes,' said the Spaniard. 'Champions League.'

When asked if he believes he will be given the time by Liverpool's owners to turn it around, he said: 'Yes. We will improve - because we can improve.'

Luis Boa Morte wasted two glorious opportunities for the hosts either side of half-time, and West Ham also hit the bar when Noble's free-kick was glanced on by Steve Finnan.

However, Benitez still felt defeat was harsh - and he also wanted a penalty when the ball struck Lucas Neill in the second half.

'Did we deserve to lose? I think we deserved to win,' he said.

'If you analyse the game, you can talk about the game. If you analyse the result, you can talk about the result.

'I am a manager, so I have some experience. We must think about how to improve, how to take our chances and how to win games.'

Benitez is not thinking about where Liverpool stand in the title race.

'I'm thinking just about the next game and I will try to win the next three points against Sunderland,' he said.

'Our next game is more realistic to think about.'

Asked if the American owners of Liverpool will be analysing the game, he said: 'I don't know if they have a TV.

'Everything is behind (us), and we will start thinking about winning games.'

The Hammers, meanwhile, are quietly staking their claim for a European place - despite their injury problems this season.

'We've got to win our home games and keep the run going,' said manager Alan Curbishley.

'We've lost three (league) games in 15 - and those were to Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton.

'We've had to use everything we've got. We've had players playing out of position - and we've had to change players during games - but we've shown great character. The fans should be pleased with that attitude.'