Asian football goes from joy to despair in a short week

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Updated 24 November 2017

Asian football goes from joy to despair in a short week

LONDON: Just last week, Asian football was celebrating the fact it had five successful World Cup qualifiers for the first time ever. This week, with the draw for the 2018 tournament imminent, two of the quintet are without a coach. For a continent desperate to redeem itself after the misery of Brazil 2014, it neither reflects nor bodes well.
Maybe Nov. 22, 2017 will be known as “Black Wednesday.” It started on a Sydney morning as an emotional Ange Postecoglou sat at a press conference and announced that he was stepping down as Australia head coach. The reasons remain unclear.
Just a few hours later, and thousands of kilometers away in Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) announced that Edgardo Bauza had been given his marching orders. It was a shock but not a surprise given the federation’s history of chopping and changing coaches and speculation just a week earlier that Bauza’s days — limited though they had been — were numbered.
Unlike Postecoglou, who had been in place for four years and had delivered the 2015 Asian Cup, Bauza arrived in Riyadh only in September. The Argentine now has the unfortunate distinction of leaving three national team jobs one year.
Fired by his homeland in April after eight months in charge, released by the United Arab Emirates in September to go to Saudi Arabia, Bauza has clearly had better years.
Bauza’s sacking mirrors what happened the last time the Green Falcons made it to the World Cup. In 2005, another Argentine, Gabriel Calderon led the side through qualification in an impressive fashion. Soon after he was fired as the big bosses reportedly did not like his preparation plan.
In came Marcos Paqueta. The Brazilian was not a big name but had been with Riyadh giants Al-Hilal. Just one point from the 2006 World Cup shows that the gamble did not work.
This is another one. Five friendly games was all Bauza had. For a new coach, three defeats against good opposition should not be a major factor at the start of preparation for the World Cup. But if there was a quick realization that the Argentine was not the right man then it was the right — if ruthless — move.
It’s one that was the result of letting Bert van Marwijk leave in September. The Dutchman, who took his native Netherlands to the 2010 final, had been the Green Falcons coach for two years and delivered a first qualification since 2006. He knew the players and vice-versa.
Talking to the Dutch media shortly after Bauza’s dismissal, Van Marwijk said he’d already been offered his old job. He refused due to the issues that led to his exit, enforced changes to his coaching staff the biggest, still existing.
If true, SAFF going back to offer him his old job back bodes well in terms of how they are approaching the task of replacing Bauza.
What the sacking has done is overshadow the great achievement of Saudi Arabia making it to the showpiece in Russia next year ­— the side’s first trip to a World Cup since Germany 2006.
All football fans aross the Kingdom will doubtless be hoping the SAFF make the right appointment now to boost the hopes of the side’s and Asia’s World Cup hopes.

Lewis Hamilton wins German GP as rival Sebastian Vettel crashes late on

Updated 43 min 6 sec ago

Lewis Hamilton wins German GP as rival Sebastian Vettel crashes late on

HOCKENHEIM: Lewis Hamilton regained the championship lead in unexpected and dramatic fashion on Sunday, winning the German Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel crashed while leading near the end.

Heavy rain played havoc late on at the Hockenheimring as Vettel misjudged a basic entry into a turn and slid over the gravel into the barriers with 15 laps to go.

The four-time Formula One champion started from pole position and seemed in control. He was livid with himself, kicking the gravel in frustration as he stepped out his car.

His mishap opened the door wide open for Hamilton.

The British driver was fourth at the time of the crash, having started from 14th on the grid because of a hydraulic problem in qualifying.

“It’s obviously very difficult from that position and highly unlikely but you’ve got to believe,” Hamilton said. “I did a long prayer before the race. I wanted to stay collected, stay calm. The team did such a great job today. I kept believing and it happened so I manifested my dream today. A big, big thanks to God.

“Conditions were perfect for business time. When it rained, I knew I would have a good position.

“You never knew what was going to happen after the safety car. I hope this solidifies their belief in me, and I hope this solidified my belief in them. For those who didn’t know me before, now you do.”

Valtteri Bottas started and finished second on a great day for Mercedes, with Kimi Raikkonen taking third on a bad one for Ferrari.

Vettel’s incident led to a safety car coming out for several laps.

When the race resumed, with about 10 laps left, Bottas almost overtook Hamilton.

That did not go down well at a nervy Mercedes. Shortly after, Bottas was firmly told on team radio to “hold position” and not challenge Hamilton, who secured his fourth win of the season and 66th overall.

“As a driver a win is what we are after, when Seb went off I think there was a good chance,” Bottas said. “Taking positives, as a team it is a perfect result for us. We had a bit of a battle lap one after the safety car. I didn’t get past and I got told to minimize the risk but I understand. I think we have certain rules but it wasn’t clear enough. It was a moment in the race where I needed to stop.”

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff justified the team orders afterwards.

“It’s two things,” he said. “We didn’t have the quickest car and we need to prepare for the next races. It was still raining at the time and the fight was so intense. With the bad luck we had, we didn’t want to take chances.”

Raikkonen finished third after also having to comply with team orders, move over and let Ferrari teammate Vettel through. “I think we have certain rules but it wasn’t clear enough,” he said. “It was a moment in the race where I needed to stop.”

Ferrari were holding a one-two for a lot of the race, but had to settle for a third and a DNF. Rain caused havoc toward the end and provided a real test of the drivers’ mettle and skill.

“In the past, it’s been difficult in the rain and I was surprised with how the grip reacted,” said Raikkonen. “It didn’t really change an awful lot in the end. It was a tricky race. I had a problem with one of the lappers, the Sauber. It was a tricky race but we try next time.”