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Solskjaer Aims to Replicate Spirit of ’99 at Manchester United

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hopes to replicate the spirit of Manchester United’s treble-winners at Old Trafford as he plots a route back to the top for the club.

Solskjaer, last month appointed as the permanent United boss, famously scored the injury-time winner in the Champions League final when Alex Ferguson’s United side won three trophies in 1999.

The Norwegian, preparing his side to face Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at home on Wednesday, intends to build the side around the principles that worked so well 20 years ago.

“We challenged each other every day in training,” he told ESPN. “There were fights and there was an inner justice that I’ve not seen in too many teams.

“We never, ever accepted anyone being below par in training. We kicked each other and we had to win every single day. That moved over into games and we never gave in. There was an unbelievable team spirit.

“I want my players to really push each other and demand 100 per cent attitude from each other every single day. That’s the only way you can improve and it’s the only way you can win.

“We had something special. It’s a different group now and the challenge is, ‘How can I make these players winners as we were?’”

United are currently sixth in the Premier League but are just three points behind third-placed Tottenham and are still in contention in the Champions League.

United are the underdogs for the Barcelona tie but Solskjaer, who oversaw a stunning comeback victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the last round, is confident.

“We’re playing against a good team but there is something special about this group of players,” he said. “It will be fantastic.”

And the United boss is not worried that Manchester City could surpass United’s achievement in 1999 by winning a quadruple this season.

“United fans want us to win it (the Champions League) because they want to win it,” Solskjaer said. “I think we should look at what we can achieve and not what we can stop others achieving.”

(AFP)

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Zidane Wants Messi to Stay in Spain Despite Barcelona Exit Claims

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Lionel Messi was reported on Thursday to be planning to leave Barcelona in 2021, but Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane was hoping the Argentine maestro will stay in Spain.

Messi’s current contract expires next year and he has halted negotiations due to frustrations with the direction of the club, said Spanish radio station Cadena Ser.

Barca sits second in La Liga with five games left, four points behind Real Madrid, who edged past Getafe 1-0 on Thursday to put the title within their grasp.

“I don’t know what will happen but we hope not because he is in this league and we want the best in this league,” said Real coach Zidane afterwards, when asked about the possibility of Messi leaving.

Messi said in February he did not believe Barcelona could win the Champions League on current form.

The 33-year-old has also had disagreements with the board, reacting publicly when sporting director Eric Abidal appeared to blame the players for the sacking of Ernesto Valverde in January.

Barcelona’s presidential elections are due to be held in 2021 when current president Josep Maria Bartomeu will have to step aside.

Among those set to run against Bartomeu’s successor is Victor Font, who wants to appoint Messi’s former team-mate Xavi Hernandez as a coach.

(AFP)

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COVID-19: CAF Cancels 2021 AFCON, AWCON, Others

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The Confederation of African Football has shifted the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations to 2022 as a result of COVID-19.

CAF made the announcement after its Executive Committee meeting, which was held via video conference on Tuesday.

The competition was slated to take place in Cameroon between January 9 and February 6, 2021.

“After consultation with stakeholders and taking into consideration the current global situation, the tournament (2021 AFCON) has been rescheduled for January 2022. The date for the final tournament and the remaining matches of the qualifiers will be communicated in due course,” CAF said in a statement.

CAF also announced that the 2020 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations slated for November 23 to December 20 had been cancelled.

Another major decision taken at the CAF meeting was the cancellation of the 2020 CAF Awards.

The football body also moved the 2020 African Nations Championship for home-based players, which was also set to be hosted by Cameroon, to January 2021.

Other decisions taken by CAF include the resumption of the Champions League and the Confederation’s Cup in September, with the ‘final four format.’ The semi-final games for both competitions would now be played over a single leg, with winners qualifying for the final.

The venue for the Champions League final is yet to be decided, while the Confederation’s Cup final four would take place in Morocco.

CAF also announced the introduction of the Women’s Champions League, which will be launched in 2021.

The U-17 and U-20 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers will be on a zonal basis, while the U-17 AFCON takes place in July 2021.

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Osimhen Wins Best African Player Award in French Ligue 1

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Lille Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen has been named winner of the Marc-Vivien Foe Award presented to the best African player in the French Ligue 1.

The award is under the auspices of RFI English-France 24 English.

Osimhen is the youngest-ever winner of the award at 21, and emerged tops in a poll of about 100 football experts across the media to succeed former Lille man Nicolas Pepe, the Ivory Coast international who joined Arsenal last summer from Lille.

Algeria striker Islam Slimani, who spent last season on loan at Monaco, came second with Reims’ Morocco international defender Yunis Abdelhamid third.

Eagles winger Moses Simon of FC Nantes finished 11th in the voting.

Osimhen’s 13 league goals (18 goals in 38 games in all competitions) in his maiden season in France helped Lille finish fourth in Ligue 1, and he also made a significant impact in the UEFA Champions League, where he scored twice in six games.

The 21-year-old is also the leading scorer in the 2021 AFCON qualifiers with three goals.

He has been linked with a big-money move away from Lille.

Osimhen has already scooped the Best Player of the Season at his club.

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