Slaven Bilic praises young Hammers

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Slaven Bilic praised his sought-after youngsters despite seeing his West Ham side eliminated from the Europa League at the hands of Astra Giurgiu.

With Sunday's Premier League opener against Arsenal always Bilic's priority, the Hammers boss took an inexperienced squad out to Romania, looking to move into the Europa League qualification play-off round.

But, after a 2-2 draw in the opening leg at Upton Park last week, his young players could not get the job done, even despite debutant Manuel Lanzini giving them an early lead.

A four-minute brace from Astra captain Constantin Budescu turned the match and the tie in favour of the Liga I side and they held on to progress, but Bilic was pleased with the young players who have shown their worth in their ultimately unsuccessful attempt to reach the group stages.

"Some of the young players played really good," he said. "Some of them showed me that we can count on them. After some of the games we got calls from other clubs who would like to take them on loan so there are a few positive things.

"Of course we are out sooner than we wanted to be, sooner than we expected to be. But the beginning of the Premier League will show us if we got the right balance (with the team) and see if we can cope with it - I think we are ready."

Bilic will now be under pressure to prove his decision to leave his key players in London was justified by recording a positive result at the Emirates Stadium, but he did not back down from his original call.

"We would want a result (against Arsenal) anyway,'' he added.

"When the Premier League starts, we have a game and of course we are looking to get a positive result.

"Do I need to justify the result here? I told you it was my decision. I have spoken with the people from the club about the Europa League and about next season, which is a huge one. I made this decision, not only for this game but for the game in Malta (in the second qualifying round against Birkirkara).

"I wanted to go through. I believed that we could go through with this team. I'm very proud of the effort they put in and disappointed with the result."

Astra coach Marius Sumudica admitted he was aware of West Ham's plans to rotate their squad for the second leg, but accused the Premier League club of underestimating his side at Upton Park.

"I followed all of the discussions (about team selection) in London," he said.

"I want to stress that we obtained this qualification in London. West Ham thought they could comfortably win this qualifying round and have an easy second match. I understand why they kept their players in London to face Arsenal - but we obtained this result in London."

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