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

  • “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).


US Soccer briefly removes emblem from Iran flag to show support for protesters

Updated 28 November 2022

US Soccer briefly removes emblem from Iran flag to show support for protesters

  • Federation says posts was intended to show “support for women fighting for basic human rights”
  • Iranian Football Federation says to file complaint against US Soccer to FIFA Ethics Committee

AL RAYYAN, Qatar: The United States Soccer Federation temporarily displayed Iran’s national flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic Republic as a show of solidarity with protesters in Iran ahead of the two teams’ World Cup clash on Tuesday.

A now-deleted graphic of the Group B standings posted on Saturday across US Soccer’s official Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts displayed the Iranian flag only bearing its green, white and red colors.

Iran has been gripped by protests since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini’s death in September while in police custody after she was arrested for flouting the country’s strict Islamic dress code.

The intent of the posts was to show “support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights,” US Soccer media officer Michael Kammarman told a news conference on Sunday. Players were not consulted on the decision to alter the flag.

“We didn’t know anything about the posts but we are supporters of women’s rights, we always have been,” US defender Walker Zimmerman said.

“We’re focused a lot on Tuesday and the sporting side as well... but at the same time we’re firm believers in women’s rights and support them.

“And we know that it’s a lot of difficulties and a lot of heartbreak and in a very disturbing time.”

The banner on US Soccer’s Twitter page was also changed on Saturday to feature the flag without the emblem. It was changed back 24 hours later to the banner they had been using during the tournament.

Iran’s state-affiliated Tasnim News Agency said the Iranian Football Federation will file a complaint against US Soccer to the FIFA Ethics Committee for “disrespecting the national flag” of the Islamic Republic.

Iranian leaders have accused the United States and other foreign adversaries of fomenting the protests in which Iranians from all walks of life have mounted one of the boldest challenges to the theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Washington has imposed sanctions on Iranian officials over the crackdown on protesters. Activist news agency HRANA said 450 protesters had been killed as of Nov. 26, including 63 minors, and over 18,000 have been arrested.

Iran’s players declined to sing the national anthem in their first game against England in an apparent show of solidarity with protesters. They sang quietly on Friday before their 2-0 win over Wales, where boos and jeers were heard from Iran supporters.

“We can’t speak for them and their message. We know that they’re all emotional,” Zimmerman said. “They’re all going through things right now, they’re human. Again, we empathize with that human emotion and completely feel for them.”

The United States and Iran will face off in a decisive Group B clash with their place at the World Cup on the line, in a match which was already freighted by decades of enmity between the nations.

With England sitting top of Group B with four points and facing bottom side Wales in their final group game on Tuesday, the Iran-US contest will determine which team goes through to the last 16.

Their eagerly awaited meeting is a rematch of the 1998 World Cup group stage contest — which Iran won 2-1 — when relations between the two nations had also been hostile.


Shaheen a 'big loss' for Pakistan, says England coach McCullum

Updated 28 November 2022

Shaheen a 'big loss' for Pakistan, says England coach McCullum

  • The left-arm pacer was left out of series following a knee injury
  • The 22-year-old also had his appendix removed earlier this month

ISLAMABAD: The absence through injury of fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi is a "big loss" to Pakistan in the three-match Test series starting this week, England head coach Brendon McCullum said Monday. 

The lanky left-arm pacer -- Pakistan's main wicket-taker in all three formats -- was left out of the series following a knee injury sustained during the Twenty20 World Cup final in Australia earlier this month. 

The 22-year-old also had his appendix removed earlier this month. 

England practised for the first time at Rawalpindi stadium on Monday, a day after arriving in Pakistan on their first Test tour since 2005. 

The first Test starts on Thursday. 

McCullum said Shaheen had made huge progress since he played with and then coached the fast bowler during the first two editions of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in 2016 and 2017. 

"I know him pretty well. He's a wonderful bowler and he's turned into a fine leader for Pakistani cricket," McCullum told a press conference. 

"Shaheen's obviously a big loss." 

In his absence, Pakistan will rely on young Naseem Shah as well as Mohammad Wasim Junior and Haris Rauf -- who haven't played at Test level. 

But McCullum praised Pakistan's fast-bowling talent. 

"You look at their team sheet and you see talent... you see some that might not be developed talent, but it's talent. 

"You need to respect that, and you need to find a way to be able to be well-researched and well-planned about what's going to come at you." 

England were due to visit Pakistan last year but pulled out a week after New Zealand abandoned their limited-over series on security grounds minutes before the first match. 

They then re-scheduled the tour in two phases, having visited Pakistan for a Twenty20 series two months ago. 

McCullum, who took over as England coach last year, admitted Pakistan would be strong at home. 

"It's a very good Pakistan squad, it's well-rounded," said McCullum, under who England have won six out of seven Tests. 

"It's got some experience and some youth -- with both batting and bowling -- and they'll be a tough challenge. 

"We know we'll have to play well if we're going to be successful." 

The second Test is in Multan (December 9-13) and the third in Karachi (December 17-21). 


Netherlands on cusp of advancing at World Cup

Updated 28 November 2022

Netherlands on cusp of advancing at World Cup

  • If the Dutch advance it will put more focus on 71-year-old coach Louis van Gaal
  • Van Gaal stepped out of retirement just over a year ago to take over the national team

DOHA: The Netherlands is on the verge of reaching the knockout stage at the World Cup and an overwhelming favorite in its final Group A match on Tuesday against host nation Qatar.
If the Dutch advance it will put more focus on 71-year-old coach Louis van Gaal, who stepped out of retirement just over a year ago to take over the national team while being treated for aggressive prostate cancer.
Host nation Qatar has lost its first two matches and already missed its chance to move on from the group stage.
For the Netherlands a draw will suffice to advance and put the Netherlands into contention again in a World Cup after failing to qualify four years ago. The Dutch could even get through with a loss if Ecuador beats Senegal in the other Group A match.
In the round of 16, the Netherlands would face one of the top two teams from Group B, where England is the favorite with Iran, Wales, and the United States scrambling for a spot.
Van Gaal said before the World Cup that the Netherlands can win it all, although few see this as one of the country’s best teams.
No powerful soccer nation has come up short at the World Cup as often as the Dutch, who have been the runners-up three times: in 1974 against West Germany, in 1978 facing Argentina, and in 2010 vs. Spain.
The Dutch also finished third in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil after losing a shootout against Argentina in the semifinals.
After being out of the game for several years, Van Gaal came out of retirement and replaced Frank de Boer in August of 2021. He said he did it out of duty.
“Because, simply, no one else was available at that time,” Van Gaal said.
Van Gaal’s matter-of-fact courage has to be a motivator for the Dutch. But he might also stir up Qatar.
Earlier this year the outspoken Van Gaal said it was “ridiculous” holding the World Cup in Qatar, a tiny country of 3 million. Qatar’s vast wealth is fueled by natural gas and oil.
“It’s ridiculous that we’re going to play in a country to — what does FIFA say? — — to develop football there,” Van Gaal said, adding that Qatar is too small and lacks a soccer culture.
“But it doesn’t matter. It’s about money, commercial interests. That’s what matters to FIFA,” Van Gaal added.


After latest milestone, Ronaldo eyes World Cup glory

Updated 28 November 2022

After latest milestone, Ronaldo eyes World Cup glory

  • A win against Uruguay would secure Portugal’s qualification from Group H to the knockout stages with a game to spare

DOHA: Another game, another personal milestone. For all the turmoil that has surrounded Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of what is likely to be his final World Cup, the Portugal great is still making his mark.

On Thursday, he became the first man to score in five World Cups.

Earlier this season, he registered the 700th club goal of his career.

Not bad for a 37-year-old, who doesn’t know where he will be playing beyond Qatar after having his Manchester United contract terminated in the wake of his incendiary interview criticizing manager Erik ten Hag and the club’s owners.

A win against Uruguay on Monday would secure Portugal’s qualification from Group H to the knockout stages with a game to spare after their opening 3-2 win against Ghana.

“This is just the beginning,” Ronaldo said in an Instagram post, adding that “there are no impossibilities.”

But if soccer’s ultimate numbers man is to achieve his ambition of lifting the one major trophy that eludes him, he can’t do it by himself.

That much was clear against Ghana, when Portugal also needed goals from Joao Félix and Rafael Leao to hold on for victory.

Felix is the likeliest heir to Ronaldo’s throne as Portugal’s inspiration-in-chief — and has even been linked with a potential move to United.

If Qatar is Ronaldo’s last World Cup dance, the moves aren’t quite as fluid as they once were.

His goal against Ghana came from the penalty spot, rather than a moment of the type of individual brilliance on which his career has been built.

That being said, FIFA Technical Study Group member Sunday Olizeh still described as “total genius” his ability to win a disputed foul from Mohammed Salisu that led to it — and Ghana coach Otto Addo insisted shouldn’t have been awarded.

Ronaldo’s celebrations suggested he doesn’t care where the goals come from, so long as they keep on coming. But Portugal can’t solely rely on such moments — and amid the noise that surrounds its most celebrated player, it can be forgotten how much talent coach Fernando Santos has at his disposal.

Not least Atletico Madrid forward Felix, United midfielder Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva of Manchester City.

“We have players that are more visible than others and they need to deal with that, with the high priority and pressure,” Santos said at a news conference Sunday before the game at the Lusail Stadium. “They express themselves in one particular way. There are players who are more extroverted, those more introverted, the most important thing is they play as a group, play together as one team.”

Portugal will be without Danilo Pereira, who suffered a rib injury in training.

Pepe, the 39-year-old center back, could replace him.

Uruguay drew 0-0 with South Korea in their first game of the tournament.

Like Portugal, Uruguay are blending the old and the new. Ronaldo’s long-time rival from their time at Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, Luis Suarez, is in an attack that also features the country’s new generation of talent in Darwin Nunez and Facundo Pellistri.

At 35, Suarez is no longer the force he once was and he was substituted just after an hour against South Korea. Another 35-year-old in Edinson Cavani replaced him, but Uruguay still couldn’t find a goal.

“I said that we had not been able to perform at our best,” Uruguay coach Diego Alonso said. “However, we had six chances to score against their one in the first half — we hit South Korea’s post, we had six, and two that hit the post.”

Ghana exposed vulnerabilities in Portugal’s defense — but Uruguay will need to be much more clinical if the South American team is to capitalize on Monday.


Fullkrug strikes late to salvage Germany World Cup draw with Spain

Updated 28 November 2022

Fullkrug strikes late to salvage Germany World Cup draw with Spain

  • Niclas Fullkrug — on only his third international appearance — lashed home an 83rd-minute equalizer
  • Alvaro Morata’s deft touch from Jordi Alba’s cross had put Spain ahead

AL KHOR; Qatar: Niclas Fullkrug’s late equalizer snatched Germany a morale-boosting 1-1 draw with Spain in a heavyweight World Cup clash on Sunday, leaving both sides’ hopes of qualifying for the last 16 still in the balance.
Alvaro Morata’s flicked finish had Spain on course to secure qualification from Group E, but the electric Jamal Musiala and Fullkrug combined to foil La Roja and restore some German pride.
Costa Rica’s surprise win over Japan earlier eased some pressure on Germany after their shock loss to the Asian side, but they were unable to capitalize for large periods in a battle for the ball against Spain.
The four-time world champions suffered a humiliating group-stage exit in Russia four years ago, and Morata’s strike at Al Bayt Stadium had them on the ropes, but Werder Bremen striker Fullkrug finished brilliantly to divide the points.
Spain lead Group E on four points, from Japan and Costa Rica on three each, while Germany have one, with a final round of matches to come.
The only World Cup group-stage clash to pit two former champions against each other lived up to its top billing in intensity and tactical intrigue, with both sides set on trying to dominate possession and press extremely high.
Germany coach Hansi Flick rejected suggestions his side had been distracted in their shock opening defeat by Japan because of their pre-game protest against FIFA “silencing teams” and the taut opening exchanges quickly ensured all focus was on the football.
Flick cut Kai Havertz from his line-up and deployed Thomas Mueller up front after their shocking opening-day capitulation, hoping for a quick reaction.
However, Spain almost took the lead in the seventh minute when Manuel Neuer palmed Dani Olmo’s powerful drive from range onto the woodwork.
It seemed like they were picking up where they left off after their 7-0 demolition of Costa Rica, but Germany steeled themselves, keeping Luis Enrique’s side at bay.
Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon relied on his footwork under pressure as La Roja sought to dominate possession.
One mistake handed Serge Gnabry an opportunity, but he fired wide.
Neuer erred with the ball at his feet too, with Germany similarly looking to build from the back, but Ferran Torres could not capitalize.
Antonio Ruediger powered home a header from a free-kick, but his celebration was cut short after VAR caught him half a step ahead of the Spanish defense, leaving the teams tied at the break.
Germany nearly struck after Joshua Kimmich won the ball back pressing extremely high, but Simon produced a fine save to deny him.
Just when Luis Enrique’s side seemed to have lost their grip on the game, they broke the deadlock.
Morata, on for Torres, finished clinically at the near post from an inviting low cross from Jordi Alba after 62 minutes.
It looked like it was enough for the 2010 champions, but Fullkrug — on only his third international appearance — decided otherwise, sneaking in behind substitute Alejandro Balde and lashing past Simon with seven minutes remaining.
Leroy Sane, on as a substitute after injury, might have won it late on for Germany but was forced extremely wide as he rounded Simon and could not find a finish or produce a cutback.
Spain face Japan on Thursday, while Germany play Costa Rica, needing to win and hoping La Roja do not lose.