Ronaldo targets European glory as United refuse to rest on laurels

CRISTIANO Ronaldo has set Manchester United the twin targets of lifting the Premier League and the Champions League this season.

Ronaldo was the inspiration behind United's title success last term and collected another winners' medal at Wembley on Sunday as United edged out Chelsea in the Community Shield.

But the 22-year-old Portugal winger is expecting much more meaningful silverware this term, with United needing to go a couple of steps further than their appearance in the Champions League semi-finals last term.

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"Our team is stronger than it was last year," Ronaldo said. "It is always difficult to win the Premier League but we have bought four great players so we don't just want to win the league, we want the Champions League as well."

Ronaldo declared himself satisfied with United's performance, even though he accepts neither side were at anything like their top form.

With split squads being sent to Glentoran and Dunfermline tomorrow, the Old Trafford outfit will get just one more run out before Sunday's opening game against Reading.

However, Ronaldo believes the next seven days can bring about a sharp improvement, especially as Ferguson could have some of his new boys available.

Fellow countryman Nani came off the bench yesterday while Owen Hargreaves and Carlos Tevez could also face the Royals, while Anderson may also figure if he can shrug off a slight hamstring strain.

"They are all great players," Ronaldo added. "I am looking forward to playing with all of them because I am sure they will help the team a lot.

"We have seven days to prepare now before the serious games start. We are not at 100 per cent yet but at least we have started off the way we wanted."

Meanwhile, Gabriel Heinze has held face-to-face discussions with manager Sir Alex Ferguson for the first time in a bid to resolve the row over his proposed move from Manchester United to Liverpool.

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Heinze had pledged to report for duty as ordered by Ferguson and duly arrived at United's Carrington training complex yesterday morning following a brief break after his Copa America campaign with Argentina.

Ferguson was eager to speak with Heinze to establish his intentions after blaming the 29-year-old's agent for talking up a move to Liverpool, something United are implacably opposed to.

It was expected Ferguson would re-state a position of which chief executive David Gill verbally advised Heinze's agent; namely United will not sell any of their players to a major domestic rival, even though Liverpool have matched the United's stated 6.8 million asking price.

Heinze has appointed a legal team to assess the validity of the letter Gill signed confirming a figure that would trigger his release.

For their part, United insist the note does not over-ride Heinze's current contract, which still has two years to run. It is also thought Gill's verbal clause, which came before Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez made his interest known, was recorded.

Although it appears Heinze's position as a United player in now untenable, in theory at least the full-back could be asked to figure at Dunfermline or Glentoran.

A more likely scenario would be for the player to remain in Manchester, while discussions continue over a resolution to the impasse, although, with United so steadfastly against letting Heinze become the first player to leave for Liverpool since Phil Chisnall in 1964, it is difficult to see much room for negotiation.

Goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar created his own little bit of history at Wembley. Even at 36, Van der Sar proved he is still capable of achieving new feats, pulling off three successive penalty saves to earn Manchester United their Community Shield triumph over Chelsea.

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Like Ferguson, Van der Sar had never had much luck in shoot-outs prior to the victory. But all that changed as the giant Dutchman denied Claudio Pizarro, Frank Lampard and, finally, Shaun Wright-Phillips in an individual performance to match any in the history of the sudden-death conclusion.

"I have never saved three penalties in a row before," he said. "It has been done before, I remember Helmuth Duckadam saving all four for Steaua Bucharest in the 1986 European Cup Final against Barcelona. That was a little bit of a bigger thing to win than the Community Shield but we are happy with this one anyway."

Van der Sar is yet to decide whether he will extend his career once his current United deal ends in the summer.

But that does not mean he is resting on his laurels. After ending last season with a few mixed performances by his usual high standards, the former Ajax player has put in a lot of work on the training ground, with the reward coming on the field.

"Over the last four or five years, I have learned to cope a little better with penalties," he said. "Before yesterday, I was 5-2 down in shoot-outs in my career, so at least I have pulled that back a little bit. It just proves even if you get older, you can still learn things."

Van der Sar's efforts ensured his second visit to the "new" Wembley was far better than his first, when Didier Drogba's late goal won the FA Cup for Chelsea.

And while the Community Shield may not rank particularly high on United's list of priorities, Van der Sar hopes the win marks the start of a trophy-laden campaign for the Old Trafford outfit, which starts at the weekend when Steve Coppell's Reading head north for the Premier League opener. "We got a much better view of the stadium this time than we did in May," he reflected. "On that occasion, when we went up to collect our medals the stadium was all blue."