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LOUIS van Gaal has guided Manchester United back into contention for a Champions League berth, but believes fourth place in the Premier League should not be enough to earn a place in Europe’s elite club competition.
Van Gaal’s side are now behind fourth-placed Manchester City only on goal difference and will be looking for a third successive league win at West Bromwich Albion today.
Delivering a second successive season of Champions League football to Old Trafford would be seen as a success for Van Gaal, whose job appeared to be under major threat before their recent revival, which has also seen them reach the last 16 of the Europa League and the quarterfinals of the FA Cup.
But the Dutchman, a Champions League winner as manager of Ajax, remains a supporter of the former European Cup format, which saw only league champions take part before the advent of the Champions League in 1992 started to widen the field with a group stage and then more than one team per country.
And Van Gaal would also oppose the formation of some form of European Super League, being mooted by some clubs on the continent and, reportedly, discussed loosely by the Premier League s big five” of United, City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Everybody knows when you follow my career that I am against the Super League and something like that,” Van Gaal said on Friday.
Sport is to be the best. When the Champions League was existing I said it was rubbish because the first and second and third and fourth team is also playing. When you have a competition it has to be between the champions. I said it 20 years ago and I say it now.
It is only commercially thinking. When you are thinking like a commercial dealer then of course you are right but I think sport is to win not to be second or third.”
As well as fourth place in the league, Van Gaal also wants to bring a first piece of silverware to Old Trafford since the 2013 league title won by Alex Ferguson in his last season, and he says the confidence of his team is growing.
I am talking to my players about first believing in it. I believe in it but the players have to believe in that and they now understand that.
It [the top four] is still our aim but our aim is also to win a title and a title is winning the Europa League. Manchester United hasn’t won it so it would be fantastic for the club and the fans. Also Manchester United hasn’t won the FA Cup for many years and that is MFANAFUTHI Prince Nxumalo is set to be called up to strengthen Bafana Bafana’s troublesome striking position when the squad for two 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Cameroon is announced at Safa House on Thursday.
Mamelodi Sundowns defensive midfielder Hlompho Kekana is also expected to be picked. Bafana coach Ephraim Shakes Mashaba faces tricky selection posers for arguably the two biggest games of his 20-month tenure.
South Africa began their campaign with a 0-0 home draw against Gambia, followed by a 3-1 defeat away to Mauritania.
Bafana will likely need to beat Cameroon at the new Omnisport Stade de Limbe, 70km outside Douala, on March 26, then again in Durban on March 29.
Injury and loss of form to the main strike combination of Tokelo Rantie and Thamsanqa Gabuza has left Bafana thin upfront.
Bournemouth striker Rantie is being treated for a leg injury in South Africa.
Nxumalo, the second topscorer in the PSL with 11 goals in 16 games, and Gabuza may be a likely strike partnership against Cameroon.
Gabuza, who has a reputation also fantastic.
A title is always more than fourth position but the Champions League is our aim and that is why the Europa League and fourth in the table are important.
Marcus Rashford (18) is again set to lead United’s attack at West Brom. Today s EPL matches: Crystal Palace vs Liverpool (3.30pm); West Brom vs Manchester United (6pm). for scoring in tough African conditions even when in poor form in the PSL, was last year’s Caf Confederation Cup joint-top scorer with six goals.
He helped steer Orlando Pirates to the final, where they lost to Etoile du Sahel. He has scored three goals in five games for Bafana, including in the matches away in Mauritania and Angola.
Kekana would be called up as cover for a central midfield where Sundowns team-mate Bongani Zungu is injured and SuperSport United’s Dean Furman has lost form. Kekana has been influential in Downs’ charge to a 10-point lead in the PSL.
He would partner Andile Jali in central midfield. Jali received a suspension in Bafana’s 3-1 World Cup second round, firstleg victory against Angola in November, but that does not apply to Afcon qualifiers.
Bafana s remaining, and perhaps most concerning, trouble position is at goalkeeper.
Itumeleng Khune is recovering from injury at Kaizer Chiefs, where Reyaad Pieterse has impressed in his absence. Jackson Mabokgwane, the captain against Angola, has fallen behind in-form Shu-Aib Walters at Mpumalanga Black Aces.
Bafana s most obvious third choice, Brilliant Khuzwayo, who played a game at the 2015 Afcon finals, is being kept out at Chiefs by Pieterse (24), who makes reflex saves and is imposing under the high ball.
He might be ready for international football, but does Mashaba want to enter two such important matches with a keeper without a cap to his name?
The same can be said of Mashaba s other options in Walters, Pirates’ Brighton Mhlongo and Maximilian Mbaeva of Golden Arrows.
Former Bafana goalkeeper Andre Arendse believes Darren Keet, who has rediscovered his form in Belgium, might be the best option.
It’s hard to know how Keet has played because we haven’t seen his 28 games. This, for me, is where any national team coach has got to go and look at these players and see for himself, Arendse said.
But the mere fact Darren’s played all 28 games speaks volumes on its own.”
Keet has five caps for Bafana. He performed well in the 2015 Afcon qualifiers taking over the gloves after Senzo Meyiwa’s death in October 2014, notably having a blinder in the 2-2 away draw against Nigeria.
But Keet had a nightmare in Bafana s 3-1 opening loss against Algeria at the finals.