Ligue 1: Claude Puel talks up Nice's chances of making Champions League

Claude Puel: Believes his side can maintain form

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Nice boss Claude Puel has talked up his side's chances of securing a place in next season's UEFA Champions League, despite admitting even he has been surprised by their recent progress.

Former Lyon coach Puel has guided Nice into fourth place in Ligue 1, just a point and a place behind a Marseille team who would, as it stands, play in Europe's elite club competition in the 2013/14 campaign.

The 51-year-old initially set a timeframe of four to five years before Nice could hope to challenge for a place in the Champions League but he is optimistic they can maintain their unlikely challenge, starting at St Etienne on Saturday.

He told L'Equipe: "Early in the season we had a little fun when I mentioned the target but it is normal to have ambition.

"This season things have been put in place more quickly than expected but we will not choke."

He accepts there remains a long way to go this season, however.

"There are many games to play and a lot of unknowns," he added.

"It is not enough to say you are ambitious, you must also prove it. And as we do not have the financial means we must prove it by hard work and humility."

Their ambition will certainly be tested against a St Etienne side who have yet to lose in 2013.

Les Verts are one of the form teams in France but their resurgence following a disappointing end to last year has not come as a surprise to full-back Francois Clerc.

Clerc told the club's official website: "Not really because I knew we had a quality squad.

"To be well-positioned in the table it is imperative to be consistent and, apart from December, we have always been successful.

"We are on a good run and we want to stay on it for as long as possible."