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Van Gaal confident of Dutch World Cup qualification

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Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal is confident his side will secure World Cup qualification in the next week, but warns their next match in Montenegro will be no easy assignment.

Van Gaal is back for a third spell as the Dutch manager and since taking over has led his side on a five-match unbeaten run – one draw followed by four victories – and they are two points clear at the top of Group G.

Van Gaal’s first game back was a 1-1 draw in September at Norway, who are second behind the Dutch and play them in Rotterdam next Tuesday in their final qualifier.

“Of course, only qualification counts and that was the goal when I was appointed. It doesn’t just happen like that but in principle I assume that we will qualify,” he told a news conference on Tuesday.

“We played a very attacking brand in all those matches, although that is possible against those kinds of opponents,” he said after they scored 17 goals in victories over Turkey, Montenegro, Latvia and Gibraltar.

“But we were also the attacking side against Norway, just look at the statistics.”

However, in order to ensure they stay ahead of Norway in the standings and be in a strong position for their last qualifier, they must beat Montenegro in Podgorica on Saturday.

“The individual quality is quite high among their players,” Van Gaal said of Montenegro.

“Don’t forget that we were actually outplayed at home for the first 20 minutes when we beat them in September.

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“We only started to play better when our wingers started to move into the right position. Then we were able to really overwhelm them and able to achieve a good result. Individually they can all do something, but as a team they are lesser than the Dutch national team,” Van Gaal added.

Van Gaal took over from Frank de Boer after the Dutch exited this year’s European Championship in the last-16.

The Netherlands failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia but under Van Gaal were third in Brazil in 2014.

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UCL: Okafor strike sees Salzburg to historic win over Sevilla

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Noah Okafor scored the only goal as RB Salzburg claimed a 1-0 victory over 10-man Sevilla at the Red Bull Arena on Wednesday to progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time in their history.

Salzburg finished as runners-up in Group G with 10 points from their six matches, one behind pool winners Lille. Sevilla ended in third place and will play in the Europa League playoff round.

The first half had little goal-mouth action but the game burst into life after the break as Salzburg were helped by a second yellow card for Sevilla’s key midfielder Joan Jordan on 65 minutes.

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The match was played behind closed doors without fans due to heightened COVID-19 restrictions in Austria, so the hosts were unable to celebrate their achievement with their supporters.

For two sides with reputations as attacking teams, it took 35 minutes of cagey football for the first shot on target as Ivan Rakitic warmed the palms of Salzburg goalkeeper Philipp Kohn.

It was the only occasion where either keeper was worked in the first half, though Sevilla defender Jules Kounde headed wide from a corner with the best chance of the opening period.

Sevilla should have been ahead minutes after the break when Munir El Haddadi had a free header six yards from goal but saw his effort come back of the crossbar.

It was a big chance the visitors would rue missing as Salzburg went up the other end and scored with an excellent team goal.

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They finally managed to string passes together and Karim Adeyemi was worked into space on the left. His low cross into the box was turned in by Swiss forward Okafor.

Sevilla’s night got worse on 65 minutes when Jordan received a deserved second booking for pulling back the pacey Adeyemi and they were left to find two goals with 10 men.

Salzburg were able to comfortably hold out to the end, with Rakitic’s first half shot the only one Sevilla, who are second in Spain’s LaLiga, could muster on target.

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Clinical Lille beat Wolfsburg to reach UCL last 16 and top Group G

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Lille reached the knockout stage of the Champions League for the second time when they claimed an emphatic 3-1 win at Wolfsburg and top spot in Group G on Wednesday.

The French champions needed a draw to advance but they played with ambition to end up with 11 points from six games, one ahead of RB Salzburg with goals by Burak Yilmaz, Jonathan David and Angel Gomes.

Wolfsburg, who scored a consolation goal through Renato Steffen, finished bottom of the group on five points and are eliminated from all European competitions.

The German side barely threatened while Lille, who have had a see-saw Ligue 1 season, made the most of their chances in front of barely 6 000 fans.

Jocelyn Gourvennec’s side had picked up only two points in their first three group games but they found their groove in a perfect return phase that put them on the brink of qualification ahead of kickoff.

They duly delivered to join fellow Ligue 1 club Paris St Germain into the last 16, which they had not reached since the 2006-07 season, when they were knocked out by Manchester United.

They went ahead in the 11th minute when Yilmaz netted with a left-footed effort after being set up by Nanitamo Ikone at the end of a quick counter-attack.

Wolfsburg stepped up a gear after the break but it was Lille who found the back of the net again in the 72nd minute after a quick combination between Gomes and David had put the hosts’ defence off balance.

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Canada striker David is the first Lille player to score in three consecutive Champions League matches.

Five minutes later, Gomes, who had come on as a 68th-minute substitute, wrapped it up with a right-footed shot courtesy of Ikone’s second assist of the night.

Steffen pulled one back with a nice 20-metre strike one minute from time but it was too little, too late for Wolfsburg.

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Toothless Barca crash out of Champions League

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Pique

Barcelona crashed out of the Champions League following a 3-0 defeat at Bayern Munich on Wednesday, failing to make it past the group stage of the competition for the first time since the 2000-01 season.

First-half goals from Thomas Mueller and Leroy Sane put the Germans, who won all six matches to top Group E, firmly in the driving seat before Jamal Musiala tapped in the third just past the hour.

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Barcelona had advanced to at least the round of 16 every time they competed in the Champions League since 2001 but will continue in the second tier Europa League after ending up third in the group. Benfica qualified as group runners-up with a win over bottom club Dynamo Kyiv.

Barca, who made not a single chance in the second half and scored just twice in six group games, have lost their last two matches in all competitions following new coach Xavi’s first defeat in charge of the side by Real Betis on Saturday.

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