Leclerc takes Singapore GP pole as Verstappen aborts lap

Leclerc takes Singapore GP pole as Verstappen aborts lap
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton after qualifying in 1st, 2nd and 3rd places respectively for the F1 Singapore Grand Prix at Marina Bay Street Circuit on Saturday. (Reuters)
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Updated 19 October 2022

Leclerc takes Singapore GP pole as Verstappen aborts lap

Leclerc takes Singapore GP pole as Verstappen aborts lap
  • “They told me to box and then I realized what was going to happen. We ran out of fuel,” Verstappen told broadcaster Sky
  • Leclerc clinched a season-leading ninth pole and finished .022 ahead of Verstappen's teammate Sergio Perez and .054 clear of Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton

SINGAPORE: Max Verstappen looked on course for pole position at the Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday when his Red Bull team aborted his lap with just seconds left in qualifying because of a fuel issue and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took pole instead.
“Why? Why? Why?” Verstappen asked when told to box, before unleashing an expletive.
He soon found out why.
“They told me to box and then I realized what was going to happen. We ran out of fuel,” Verstappen told broadcaster Sky. “It is incredibly frustrating and it shouldn’t happen ... At least you (should) track that throughout the session to know you aren’t going to make it. We should’ve seen that way earlier.”
Verstappen starts eighth, although he’s won from 14th on the grid this season in Belgium.
He was well clear of Leclerc at the time splits but Red Bull called him in as he was about to go under fuel limit regulations. Drivers can be disqualified if they don’t have enough fuel left in the tank, which would have meant starting from last place.
Still, he was clearly displeased at what happened.
“I am not happy at all at the moment, I know of course it is always a team effort and I can make mistakes, and the team can make mistakes, but it is never acceptable,” he said. “Of course you learn from it, but this is really bad. It shouldn’t happen.”
Leclerc clinched a season-leading ninth pole and finished .022 ahead of Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez and .054 clear of Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton.
“It was incredibly close, a really exciting session,” said Hamilton, who has a record 103 career poles but none this year. “A really clean qualifying session. It was so difficult to get that lap perfect.”
Perez is confident he can challenge for victory.
“It’s an opportunity tomorrow from the start to attack Charles and I’ll go for the win,” Perez said. “It’s quite disappointing to miss out by two hundredths but at the end of the day I think they did a fantastic job. Very happy.”
But Verstappen’s grid position deals a blow to his chances of wrapping up the title on Sunday on a street track difficult for overtaking. That gives Leclerc a good chance to win his fourth race of the season.
“I thought we wouldn’t get pole but it paid off and I’m really happy,” Leclerc said. “It was really, really special, every qualifying in street tracks are super on the limit.”
Leclerc called it “a matter of time before Max gets his title.”
Verstappen leads Leclerc by 116 points and will clinch his second straight title only if he scores 22 points more than Leclerc, his most realistic challenger.
He must win to secure the title Sunday, along with two other scenarios involving Leclerc. If Verstappen wins, Leclerc can finish no higher than ninth; if Verstappen wins and earns a bonus point for fastest lap, Leclerc can finish no higher than eighth.
The race buildup has seen bickering between teams over an alleged 2021 budget cap breach by Red Bull, which drew an angry response from Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
Also, Hamilton was summoned to appear before the stewards for a potential jewelry breach shortly after third practice had ended at the Marina Bay Circuit.
The seven-time F1 champion was later cleared after being investigated for an alleged infringement of Appendix L, Chapter III of the FIA’s International Sporting Code, which includes a prohibition on the wearing of jewelry. The summons related to Hamilton’s nose stud, which he had previously removed when the FIA’s jewelry ban was applied.
Hamilton said he explained to stewards before qualifying started that he needs to keep the stud in due to complications linked to a blood blister on his nose. Hamilton said he has a doctor’s letter showing all this and stewards accepted his explanation after reviewing footage.
Meanwhile, two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso will start behind Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. and from fifth place in his record 350th F1 race on Sunday, which will be one more than 2007 F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen.
McLaren’s Lando Norris was sixth and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly qualified seventh ahead of Verstappen, Kevin Magnussen (Haas) and Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) in 10th.
Williams driver Alex Albon, racing just three weeks after being hospitalized with appendicitis and then suffering respiratory failure, qualified 19th.
He went out of Q1 with Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon — who have a combined 19 F1 wins. Bottas starts from 16th spot with Ricciardo 17th and Ocon 18th.
Earlier Saturday, Leclerc led a rain-hit third and final practice ahead of Verstappen. Half the session was lost as marshals swept water off the 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) track, which mostly dried out for qualifying.
Midway through Q2, some drivers changed to the quicker slick tires while other stayed on intermediaries. Mercedes driver George Russell starts 11th after being knocked out of Q2 with four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin).


Portugal hammer Switzerland 6-1 to reach World Cup quarters

Portugal hammer Switzerland 6-1 to reach World Cup quarters
Updated 9 sec ago

Portugal hammer Switzerland 6-1 to reach World Cup quarters

Portugal hammer Switzerland 6-1 to reach World Cup quarters
DOHA: Portugal hammer Switzerland 6-1 to reach World Cup quarters.

Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset

Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset
Updated 06 December 2022

Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset

Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset
  • The Palestinian flag -- which has been fluttering widely across Qatar during the finals -- was seen being held aloft by Moroccan players

DOHA: Morocco’s players unfurled a Palestinian flag during their on-pitch celebrations after the team’s stunning World Cup upset victory against Spain on Tuesday.
The Palestinian flag — which has been fluttering widely across Qatar during the finals — was seen being held aloft by Moroccan players following the dramatic penalty shoot-out win over the Spaniards.
FIFA regulations prohibit the display of banners, flags and fliers that are deemed to be “political, offensive and/or discriminatory nature.” In the past, football’s governing bodies have issued fines for displays of the Palestinian flag inside stadia.
Morocco’s players also displayed the Palestinian flag after the team’s win against Canada during the group stage last week.
World Cup host Qatar has no relations with Israel and remains a supporter of the decades-long Palestinian cause for statehood.
Israel has occupied the Palestinian territories of east Jerusalem and the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War fought with Arab nations.
About 250,000 Palestinians live in Qatar which has a population of around 2.9 million, most of them foreigners.


Ronaldo benched for Portugal’s last 16 tie with Switzerland

Ronaldo benched for Portugal’s last 16 tie with Switzerland
Updated 06 December 2022

Ronaldo benched for Portugal’s last 16 tie with Switzerland

Ronaldo benched for Portugal’s last 16 tie with Switzerland
  • Ronaldo, 37, is the only man to score at five World Cups
  • He angered Portugal coach Fernando Santos with his reaction to being substituted in the last group game

DOHA: Cristiano Ronaldo was left out of Portugal’s starting line-up for their World Cup last 16 clash against Switzerland on Tuesday, with Goncalo Ramos selected up front at his expense.
Ronaldo, 37, is the only man to score at five World Cups, but he angered Portugal coach Fernando Santos with his reaction to being substituted in the last group game.
Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix return for Portugal after they were rested in the 2-1 loss to South Korea, as does Bernardo Silva who made a brief appearance off the bench in that game.
Joao Cancelo drops out, with Diogo Dalot keeping his spot at right-back and Raphael Guerreiro restored at left-back.
Otavio starts in midfield after recovering from an injury in Portugal’s opening match.
Switzerland welcome back goalkeeper Yann Sommer from illness and Fabian Schaer retains his place in defense having filled in for Nico Elvedi in the 3-2 win over Serbia.
Edmilson Fernandes comes in for the absent Silvan Widmer at right-back.


Newcastle in Riyadh: Howe reveals Isak injury caution

Newcastle in Riyadh: Howe reveals Isak injury caution
Updated 06 December 2022

Newcastle in Riyadh: Howe reveals Isak injury caution

Newcastle in Riyadh: Howe reveals Isak injury caution
  • $70m Swedish forward will miss Thursday’s friendly against Al-Hilal, remains doubt for Premier League return
  • While the January transfer window is not expected to be a transformative one for United, Isak’s return will very much feel like a cliched new signing

RIYADH: Newcastle United’s record signing Alexander Isak is a major doubt for the club’s return to English Premier League action with head coach Eddie Howe confirming that the $70m Swede will not feature in Thursday’s Diriyah Season Cup clash with Al-Hilal.

Since arriving at St. James’ Park in a summer deal, 23-year-old Isak has played just three games, the last of which came in September. He scored two goals in that trio of Premier League encounters, one of which came against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.

And while it had been hoped the former Real Sociedad striker would feature on Thursday evening, those hopes have been dashed by Howe, who claims the player is facing a race against time to be fit for the visit to Leicester City on Dec. 26.

The Newcastle boss does, however, insist there has been no setback to Isak’s return-to-fitness plan.

Howe said: “He’s doing well. This was the plan. We didn’t expect him to train with the group when we first started training so he’s with the sports scientist team and physios.

“We are building him up in a controlled way and we expect him to be very close for Bournemouth or Leicester, we’re not sure if he’ll be fit or available for those games yet.”

On whether Isak would play against the Saudi Pro League champions this week, Howe added: “No, it’s a bit too early. I don’t expect him to feature in those games (against Al Hilal and a friendly against Rayo Vallecano on Dec. 17). We’ll try and get him back for Bournemouth or Leicester, but we’ll have to see how it goes.

“There’s been no setback. There was an initial setback when he re-injured his thigh and as a consequence of that we just want to make sure we get him fully fit.”

While the January transfer window is not expected to be a transformative one for United, Isak’s return will very much feel like a cliched new signing.

Howe said: “Very much so. He’s a player we’ve really liked and missed, and he’ll give us lots of qualities we feel the team needs. We’re really excited to try and get him back.”

Meanwhile, Newcastle United’s players were guests of honor at the Riyadh residence of Saudi Public Investment Fund head and Magpies’ non-executive chairman, Yasir Al-Rumayyan.

The 28-man playing squad, along with co-owners Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi, as well as Howe’s coaching staff were invited for an evening meal with Al-Rumayyan and his family on Monday evening, 24 hours after their arrival in the Kingdom.

After the event, PCP Capital Partners’ Ghodoussi took to social media to post an image of the squad together, united, and said: “A great evening with great people (followed by a red heart emoji) #nufc #NUFCinRiyadh.”

The players trained at Al-Hilal’s training complex on Tuesday morning, with Isak confined to the gym as part of his recovery.

The only absentees from the playing squad are the Magpies’ World Cup representatives Bruno Guimaraes, Kieran Trippier, Callum Wilson, Nick Pope, and Fabian Schar, while Dan Burn, absent from the original Saudia flight on Sunday, joined up with the squad on Tuesday following his recovery from an illness.

On his players’ return to Saudi Arabia, Howe added: “The first thing we did was to test the players and find out where they were physically compared to the tests we did during pre-season, and from those tests the players were in a good place, which you probably expect as it’s only been two weeks and a couple of days rest but you can still lose a bit of fitness even in that short space on time.

“Because it’s such a short window, the minute we start working, the players will quickly get back to the levels of a very good physical condition.”


Heroic Morocco make history to reach World Cup quarter-final

Heroic Morocco make history to reach World Cup quarter-final
Updated 06 December 2022

Heroic Morocco make history to reach World Cup quarter-final

Heroic Morocco make history to reach World Cup quarter-final
  • Penalty shootout win over Spain means Atlas Lions are first Arab nation to reach last eight
  • Achraf Hakimi scored the crucial spot kick to light the touch-paper in an already febrile Education City Stadium

Morocco are in dreamland and in the quarter-finals of the World Cup after a historic 3-0 penalty shootout victory over Spain on Tuesday after 120 minutes ended 0-0.

It is by some distance the greatest result in Morocco’s history, and the Arab world now has a team in the last eight for the first time ever. And now who knows how far they can go?

Achraf Hakimi scored the crucial spot kick to light the touch-paper in an already febrile Education City Stadium. 

With Senegal, the US, Australia, Japan and South Korea falling by the wayside earlier in the second round, Morocco were not just the last Arab hope but the only team left at Qatar 2022 not from the traditional power centers of Europe and South America. 

There was plenty of support for the team from all around the world and how they delivered against a genuine powerhouse.

Spain were still regarded as clear favorites despite collecting just four points from their group, three less than the Arab record notched up by the Atlas Lions, who finished top of Group F above Croatia, Belgium and Canada.

Such is the pedigree of a nation that lifted the trophy just 12 years ago, and it is that level that Morocco are aiming for. They are not far away as this victory proves.

Whatever the result at the end of the 90 or 120 minutes, Morocco are now a team to be reckoned with and not an opponent to be under-rated.

The same goes for their fans. Once again, it was a sea of red that produced waves of noise that crashed around Education City Stadium. As much as the team, the Moroccan fans have really made their presence felt at the World Cup. The support has been monumental from the start.

From offset, they roared their heroes into every tackle and every run. When Sofiane Boufal danced down the left midway through the first half, you could have closed your eyes and felt like you were in Rabat, Fez or Agadir.

Spain were dangerous, however, and capable of breaking free at any time.

Before the game, Morocco had conceded just one goal in seven under Walid Regragui and that was an own goal against Canada in the final group game. 

This was their toughest test by far and, if there was to be any chance of going through, the defense had to hold firm. With Spain enjoying the lion’s share of possession, the Moroccan players had to stay focused and they did, allowing just one shot in the first half.

Nasser Mazraoui has improved with every game, and the Bayern Munich star forced a good save out of the Spanish number one just after the half-hour. With Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi combining well down the right and the opposition looking smooth in the middle, it was a fascinating clash. 

Just before the break, Morocco had the chance of the half with Boufal enjoying a free header that was missed.

The second half continued in a similar fashion though as the minutes ticked by, Spain had more of the ball (80 percent after 90 minutes) but were still struggling to create chances with Morocco defending well and looking to hit on the counter.

Even with 20 minutes remaining, the shadow of a longer game was looming large, though both teams had chances. Spain almost snatched a goal in the final seconds of normal time.

Morocco had their best period of the match early in extra time. The game was on a knife-edge with the Arab team continuing to defend magnificently.

If extra time seemed inevitable, penalties did not. Both teams had chances to win in the final half hour with Spain hitting the post with virtually the last kick of the game.

The first kick of the shootout was converted by Abdelhamid Sabiri and when Pablo Sarabia hit the post, a whole nation started to believe. Ziyech made it 2-0, then Carlos Soler saw his kick saved and the roof was being raised.

Badr Benoun failed to convert but it didn’t matter when Sergio Busquets became the third Spaniard to miss. Up stepped Hakimi and the rest is history.