Tunji Akinola has his sights set on progression in the Premier League International Cup when his West Ham United U23 side take on GNK Dinamo Zagreb at the Chigwell Construction Stadium on Tuesday evening.
The Hammers were 2-1 winners in their first contest of the tournament this season, beating reigning champions FC Porto in Dagenham, and will seal their place in the knockout stages should they pick up another three points against their Croatian opponents.
That would leave the east Londoners with little pressure on them going into a final group game against English outfit Southampton, who have so far won four points from their two matches.
Akinola believes his team has the quality to do the job tonight and can’t wait to get going.
He said: “We’re very excited. Especially after winning the first game in this tournament, knowing another win tonight will give us a great chance of progression, we can’t wait to go and do the business.
“I think that win against Porto gave the boys a good boost. When Jahmal [Hector-Ingram] scored the winning goal everyone ran and celebrated together; even the injured boys in the stands joined the celebrations.
“It meant a lot because we know the quality of players we have in our team so our form in the league this season has been disappointing for us. That win sort of reminded us of our level.”
We’re very excited. Especially after winning the first game in this tournament, knowing another win tonight will give us a great chance of progression, we can’t wait to go and do the business.
But Akinola is looking forward to the challenge of facing the Croatian league’s champions’ academy side, and thinks the experience of facing foreign teams throughout his education at West Ham’s Academy of Football will stand the Hammers in good stead.
“I have played lots of different types of teams from different countries over the years and they have all been positive experiences,” he reflected. “These types of teams don’t play the same as the teams we play at home as they have grown up learning different styles of football.
“Sometimes I’ve won but sometimes I’ve lost and learnt how to deal with foreign opposition. Little tips like knowing that you can’t always make lots of physical contact like you can in England because foreign players tend to go down easier; those are the things you pick up.
“For me personally, there is lots of competition at the back of our defence which I feel is great and pushes us on more.
“Pasky [Josh Pask], Reece [Oxford] and Ajibola [Alese] are three of the best defenders I’ve played with in my time at West Ham; at the moment we’re all fighting for two spots which raises the intensity of training.
“I’m just hoping to have a solid game tonight and make sure my place in the team is sorted.”
Supporters heading to Dagenham and Redbridge’s Chigwell Construction Stadium for tonight’s Group A match can attend for free if they are Season Ticket Holders or Claret Members. Tickets otherwise are priced at £5 for adults and £3 for concessions.