Formula One: Vettel lays down early marker in Japan

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany waves to fans during a fan meeting ahead of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, central Japan. (AP)
Updated 06 October 2017
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Formula One: Vettel lays down early marker in Japan

SUZUKA, Japan: Sebastian Vettel posted the quickest time Friday in a crash-hit first free practice for the Japanese Grand Prix as Mercedes and Red Bull also showed impressive early pace.
The German, who trails Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton by 34 points with five races left this season, steered his Ferrari to a fastest lap of one minute, 29.166 seconds in light drizzle at Suzuka.
Hamilton clocked the next quickest time, 0.2 seconds behind Vettel in dry conditions, before Carlos Sainz rammed into a wall and brought a temporary halt to proceedings with half an hour left.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo roared to a 1:29.541 lap after bolting on the super-soft tires, while Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was the only other driver to break 1:30 despite complaining of overheating brakes.
Vettel’s time came after the removal of Sainz’s battered vehicle, the four-time world champion pointing his finger angrily at Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson as he crossed the line.
Valtteri Bottas registered a 1:30.151 for Mercedes with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen – who ambushed Hamilton to win in Malaysia last weekend – sixth fastest.
Vettel, who finished fourth in Sepang after starting from the back of the grid, faces a must-win race at the fearsome figure-of-eight Japanese circuit, where he won four times with Red Bull.
Verstappen had a fright as he slid off onto the gravel before Sainz smashed into a tire wall after exiting the hairpin, mangling his Toro Rosso and bringing out the red flags.
“I don’t know what happened. I lost the car,” said the Spaniard over the radio before climbing out of the wreckage unhurt.
Esteban Ocon’s Force India and Nico Hulkenberg in a Renault were seventh and eighth quickest, while Romain Grosjean’s Haas and the McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne rounded out the top 10.
Rain has also been forecast for the afternoon’s second free practice.


Saudi Arabia hopeful ahead of opening Asian Games opening clash against Iran

Updated 14 August 2018
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Saudi Arabia hopeful ahead of opening Asian Games opening clash against Iran

  • Young Falcons hopeful of a semifinal spot.
  • Under-23 players keen on making a name for themselves in Indonesia.

JAKARTA: There is a widely held belief that to succeed in sport, you must start early.
Officials from the Saudi Arabia National Olympic Committee will be hoping it rings true this month as the Kingdom’s Under-23 football team prepares to prematurely kick-off its Asian Games campaign this afternoon in Jakarta, three days before the continent’s largest multi-sport competition officially begins.
Similar to the Olympics, the football tournament starts before the opening ceremony and finishes on the competition’s final day, Sept. 2. The fledgling Young Falcons face Iran today at the 28,000-capacity Wibawa Mukti Stadium in the Indonesian capital.
The Saudi NOC have brought a delegation of 169 athletes, including eight females, and will compete across 22 disciplines, including athletics, shooting, taekwondo and volleyball. The three-week Asian Games operate both as a continental precursor and, at times, a qualifying tournament for 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The Young Falcons made their football debut at the Asian Games in South Korea four years ago, reaching the quarterfinals in Incheon, before losing to Iraq. Their regional neighbors were inspired by legendary striker Younes Mahmoud, who had been included as one of Iraq’s three over-age players and scored twice in a 3-0 win.
Yet the impact of Mahmoud in Korea has not influenced the team’s selection. With the Saudi Pro League starting next week, coach Saad Al-Shehri has opted to forego athletes older than 23, instead selecting a squad consisting primarily of Al-Ahli development players and a smattering of Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad and Al-Ettifaq-based youths.
“We haven’t brought any overage players because we are playing here as preparation for the U23 Asian Cup, which will offer qualification for Tokyo 2020,” said Faisal Almarashdi, a spokesman for the team.
“We have brought to Indonesia only players who are 21 or under as they will all be eligible for Tokyo. Many have already played at the Under-20 World Cup under coach Saad, so there was never any discussion to use the three allocated over-age slots.”
Abdullah Otayf is the model example of how Asian Games experience can help a young career. Four years ago, the deep-lying midfielder was part of the squad that traveled to Korea. This summer he was an integral part of the Green Falcons side that played at the World Cup in Russia. 
With national team coach Juan Antonio Pizzi following the competition from afar, there will be chances to catch the eye for the likes of striker Haroune Camara and midfielders Abdullah Yahya Magrshi and Ali Hassan Al-Asmari ahead of January’s Asian Cup. Both midfielders have already made their full debuts for Ahli and featured in the Jeddah club’s Champions League campaign last season, while Al-Qadisiyah’s Camara was included in Pizzi’s provisional World Cup squad before being cut from the final 23.
“These Asian Games are very important for the young players involved,” Almarashdi added.
“They are the future of the senior team so if they play well here and at the U23 Asian Cup then, we hope, they will go to Tokyo 2020. From then on the pathway to the senior team is already very clear.”  
Much like the seniors, the U23 side is both short and slight, with only two of the 10 midfielders and forwards standing above 5 foot 8 (172m). Today’s opponents Iran are not only taller and more physical, they also have, in Croatian coach Zlatko Kranjčar, a manager who knows West Asian football after short spells in Qatar and the UAE. In their most recent preparation match, Iran lost 3-2 to China. 
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, beat the UAE last week in Malaysia following a pair of friendlies against local sides. Today’s match will kick-off at 4 p.m. local time, midday in Saudi Arabia.