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Louis van Gaal on Marcus Rashford's Euro 2016 bid: Age is not important

Alison Bender takes a quick look at players who shined in their debuts before struggling later and asks whether Marcus Rashford is the real deal.

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal does not believe inexperience should prevent breakthrough star Marcus Rashford from securing a surprise, late place in England's Euro 2016 squad.

Rashford, 18, has swiftly risen from unknown to an Old Trafford favourite, having followed up a debut brace against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League with another double during an even better performance, scoring twice at home to Arsenal.

Rashford produced another solid display as United eked out a 1-0 win against Watford in midweek -- just the third senior appearance of his career, but a match followed by talk of a Euro 2016 place.

England boss Roy Hodgson was keen to keep the pressure off when quizzed about the teenager in Paris, but refused to rule the striker in or out of selection for this summer's tournament.

Van Gaal bristled when those comments were put to him at the news conference previewing Sunday's trip to West Brom, although the United boss underlined his belief that quality is more important than experience.

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"I think that Mr Hodgson has answered the question of the media and now you are asking again,'' he said. "Who is paying a lot of attention to that? It is the media, it is not Hodgson or I. We have to answer the questions.

"This is my answer to you -- you are putting the question and then you are saying Hodgson is telling something. No, he is answering questions.''

When asked again whether England recognition would be too much, too soon for Rashford, Van Gaal added: "It is never too early. I have said it also a lot of times in my press conferences.

"Age is not important, I have said that. Maybe you remember that? Age is not important, it is the quality.''

It will be interesting to see whether Rashford starts a fourth straight game -- and first on the road -- when United head to the Hawthorns.

The match offers United the chance to go on a five-match winning run for the first time in this topsy-turvy season -- a result that would ratchet up the pressure on faltering rivals Manchester City.

Manuel Pellegrini's fourth-placed side have a game in hand but, just weeks after looking out of sight, now find themselves level on points with United following the midweek results.

Van Gaal's best chance of Champions League qualification had until recently looked to be through the Europa League -- which continues against rivals Liverpool at the last-16 juncture next week -- but now his side are in the hunt for a top-four finish.

"[The top four is] still our aim, I've said that also in that time," Van Gaal said. "But our aim is also to win a title and a title is winning the Europa League and, of course, Manchester United have not won this [competition before].

"It should be fantastic for Manchester United and the fans, when you win a title, but the [last] FA Cup is many years ago so that would be fantastic also.

"A title is always more [important] than fourth position, but the Champions League is our aim so that's why the Europa League is very important or the fourth position in the league."

Overcoming Tony Pulis' West Brom will be key to maintaining the pressure on those in the Champions League places, but there appears no chance of complacency seeping in after the recent upturn in fortunes.

"Of course, when you see we have closed the gap a little bit, then your belief shall raise," Van Gaal added. "I am talking about to my players that you first have to believe in it. I believe in it, but the most important thing is that the players have to believe that.

"I think that they now understand that you can believe it, but, still, we have to beat West Bromwich Albion. That's not easy.

"Last year we played there [and drew 2-2] so it is not an easy opponent, and at home we lost last season. We won against them [this campaign] and we hope to win also on Sunday."

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