LONDON, Feb 22 (Reuters) - There is no way European champions Chelsea will ease off in the pursuit of the Europa League crown even if it interferes with their domestic duties, captain John Terry said on Friday.
Chelsea dropped down into the less regarded Europa League after becoming the first reigning European champions to fail to get through the group stage of the Champions League.
Matches are played on a Thursday, putting teams involved at a disadvantage when it comes to weekend action.
Terry, though, said there was only one thought going through his mind during the game against Sparta Prague, which the Londoners won 2-1 on aggregate to reach the last 16 of the competition.
“Qualification was an absolute must. We’re disappointed to be out of the Champions League and watching it on Tuesday and Wednesday night was enough motivation for us to kick on in this one,” the defender told Chelsea’s website (www.chelseafc.com).
“We’re in it to win it and nothing changes from that. After that we’d have a chance with the Super Cup, so still some big competitions to play for.”
In the Premier League, Chelsea can go within a point of second place on Sunday with victory over champions Manchester City.
They could also set up an FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester United on March 10 if they beat second-tier Middlesbrough in five days time.
Either side of the potential United clash, Chelsea will take on former European champions Steaua Bucharest on March 7 and 14 in the Europa League.
The prospect of a packed schedule does nothing to deter Tottenham Hotspur boss Andre Villas-Boas who also said he would rather be in the Europa League than twiddle his thumbs midweek.
“I don’t think the Europa League is a distraction, I think it’s an inspiration. Results like this give confidence for Inter and the Premier League,” Villas-Boas, whose side will play Inter Milan in the last 16, was quoted as saying by British media.
“We want to continue setting the example in this competition. We think it’s a real example for England,” added the Portuguese, who guided Porto to the Europa League title in 2011, his first season in charge there.
Tottenham are fourth in the league on 48 points and play at West Ham United on Monday.
Also through to the last 16 in the Europa League are Newcastle United, who finished a surprise fifth in the Premier League last season but are struggling domestically and lie 16th in the table, four points above the drop zone.
They face 15th-placed Southampton in the league on Sunday and manager Alan Pardew is hoping the club can transfer their European momentum into the relegation scrap.
“We had some real heroes today and it’s been a great week for us,” said Pardew of the 1-0 win at Metalist Kharkiv.
“We just need to repeat it on Sunday because that will be an important game. It could give us some breathing space in the Premier League.”
Pardew added the return of some players from injury, such as France midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa, would only benefit his side who next face big-spending Russians Anzhi Makhachkala.
“With Ben Arfa coming back and Cheick (Tiote) to add to that side, I really feel as though we can give this competition a good go.” (Editing by Alison Wildey)