Verstappen three-peat, Hamilton retirement and more things learned from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

An exciting season finale in Abu Dhabi saw Max Verstappen wrap up his stellar Formula One campaign with yet another race victory in Abu Dhabi. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 November 2022
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Verstappen three-peat, Hamilton retirement and more things learned from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

  • A sold-out Grand Prix saw scores of celebrities turn up to witness the action at Yas Marina Circuit

ABU DHABI: An exciting season finale in Abu Dhabi saw Max Verstappen wrap up his stellar Formula One campaign with yet another race victory.

A sold-out Grand Prix saw scores of celebrities turn up to witness the action at Yas Marina Circuit. From Pep Guardiola to Shaquille O’Neal to Usher to Usain Bolt… the race in the UAE capital was a star-studded affair.

Here’s what we learned from the F1 season-closer...

Max pulls off Abu Dhabi hattrick

World champion Max Verstappen picked up a third consecutive victory at Yas Marina Circuit, marking the first time he has pulled off a three-peat at the same race in his career.

The Red Bull man concluded the season with 15 victories from 22 races in 2022 and he can’t wait to try and do it all over again next year.

“It's been really enjoyable to work with the whole team and to be able to achieve something like this this year,” said Verstappen.

“I know it's going to be hard to replicate something like this. But it's also very good motivation to try and do well again next year.”

Strategy pays off for Ferrari

In the battle for the runner-up spot in the drivers’ championship, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc pipped Sergio Perez by placing second at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ahead of the Red Bull driver, who completed the podium in third.

A one-stop strategy from Ferrari for Leclerc made all the difference and it not only secured second place for the Monegasque driver, but also second place for the Italian marque in the constructors’ championship.

“I was 110 percent from the first lap to the last lap,” said Leclerc, who outscored Perez by just three points in the drivers’ standings.

“Honestly, we had the perfect race for us, there was not much more today. I knew that the only possibility for us to beat Checo (Perez) today was with a different strategy and playing with the tyre management, which we did really well today. And we managed to make the one-stop work. So really, really happy.”

Vettel hopes to leave lasting legacy

Sebastian Vettel’s F1 career ended with a 10th place finish in Abu Dhabi and featured some thrilling battles with Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo.

The four-time world champion enjoyed an emotional weekend filled with tributes from within the F1 paddock and beyond and he left the track with some lovely words about the legacy he hopes to leave behind in the sport.

“I feel a bit empty, to be honest, it's been a big weekend,” said the Aston Martin driver.

“I think the last two years have been very, maybe disappointing from a sporting point of view, but very, very useful and important to me in my life, a lot of things happened. A lot of things that I realized.

“I think it's a huge privilege being in the position that we are in and with that comes some responsibility. So I hope to pass on a little bit to the other drivers to carry on some of the good work.

“It's great to see that we have the power to inspire you with what we do and what we say. So I think there are far bigger and far more important things than racing in circles, but obviously it's what we love and through that if we can transfer some of the really important values that's big.

“And I think for that the last two years have been great for me.”

Hamilton’s streak is broken

Lewis Hamilton’s streak of 15 consecutive seasons in which he has won at least one race has come to an end after failing to top the podium at any Grand Prix throughout his 2022 campaign.

Since making his F1 debut in 2007, Hamilton had won a race in every single year he has competed in Formula One up until this season.

2022 is also the first season in Hamilton’s career in which he hasn't scored a pole position.

His year to forget ended with a car retirement at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with just three laps to go, and the seven-time world champion is grateful his season with Mercedes’ W13 car is finally over.

“I’m looking forward to the end of Tuesday because it’s the last time I will drive this car and I don’t ever plan to drive this one again,” Hamilton had said after qualifying on Saturday.

He joked on Sunday that he might “call in sick” so he doesn’t have to drive the car during the Pirelli test at Yas Marina Circuit on Tuesday.

“I always believed right until the last race that there was potentially a chance [to win],” Hamilton said after his DNF in the UAE capital.

“I think it’s important to hold onto hope and just keep working. I gave it everything and the last race was almost like the whole season; it summed up the whole year. Glad it’s done.”

Wolff focused on giving drivers a competitive car

Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff said on Saturday the W13 provided a necessary learning experience for them and joked that it will “not be forgotten as the car that dominated the Brazilian Grand Prix”.

“I think this car will always have a special place in our collection, very far back. But I think that hopefully the next years will do her justice. Because the learning curve with that car was enormous. Our fundamental understanding of aerodynamic, vehicle dynamics correlation has gone through a step change of learning.”

Wolff believes Hamilton will not be too disheartened by seeing his streak of annual victories snapped and says the most important thing is to get both his drivers in a competitive car in 2023.

“Lewis says that the one victory a year isn’t really a record that bothers him,” said Wolff.

“And if I’m trying to put myself in his shoes, where I was before Brazil, it didn’t particularly bother me whether we could win a race this season because all our eyes are already on next year.

“But then having won one (George Russell’s triumph in Brazil), it felt pretty good, certainly nobody can say, ‘Well they didn’t win a race that year’.

“So I don’t think that this particular record is an important one for him. But we need to provide him with a car next year that he can fight for victories and the championship, that’s most important and he knows that.”

Alpine secure deserved fourth

Esteban Ocon can breathe a huge sigh of relief as his stressful weekend in Abu Dhabi ended with him placing seventh in the race, which helped his Alpine team lock down fourth place in the constructors’ championship, ahead of McLaren.

With his teammate Fernando Alonso unable to complete the race due to a suspected water leak in his car, Ocon carried the burden alone at Yas Marina Circuit and the Frenchman certainly delivered.

“I’m very, very pleased with the result that we got today. Obviously one more lap and we could have probably got Lando (Norris). It was very, very close race the whole way but that doesn’t matter; all the targets that we set ourselves are accomplished,” said Ocon.

“We finished fourth in the constructors’ championship, thank God for that, I lost two and a half kilos this weekend of stress and being too focused. It is also my best season in Formula One in terms of points. So I’m very pleased with that. A good job by the whole team to develop the car so much over the year and hopefully we can close even more the gap for next year.”

McLaren’s Lando Norris finished sixth in Abu Dhabi – and set the fastest lap – to end his campaign in seventh place in the drivers’ championship, just one spot off his position from last year.

“It’s where we deserve to be, P5,” said Norris of McLaren’s place in the constructors’ championship.

“I guess you feel very disappointed when there’s a shot at P4 and you could have had it. But we’ve had bad weekend of reliability. Alpine have had four, five. They’ve been the quicker car the majority of the year.

“I think to have kept in the fight with them for so long proves how good of a job we’ve done with a worse package honestly. And therefore that’s why I’m quite happy. We’re P5 but there are a lot of good things about the job that we’re doing. It’s just you need a good car and we just started too far behind in the beginning of the season.”

Ricciardo looks to ‘rebuild’ himself

Daniel Ricciardo has no idea if Abu Dhabi was his last-ever race in Formula One, but the Australian is entering the unknown with a solid perspective on how he can use his time away from the cockpit to his advantage.

McLaren ended Ricciardo’s contract early and he will be without a seat for next year. He is likely to sign a deal as a reserve driver for his former team, Red Bull, but assures he would only be around for “at most a dozen” races in 2023.

“The role I’ll have will not be 24 races. If I was there 24 races then I’ll probably be on the grid racing. I wanted to make that clear that, look, I want to still be involved, but personally for me, for my own headspace, I need some time away from the travel and everything,” explained Ricciardo.

A fan favorite and popular figure in the paddock, Ricciardo finished ninth in Abu Dhabi, despite a three-grid place penalty for his crash with Kevin Magnussen in Brazil the previous week.

“I’m relieved that the season finished like this and not like the race in Brazil. To see the chequered flag, to finish in the points, just makes me a little more at peace with how this year has ended,” said Ricciardo.

Asked about how it might feel next season being at a Grand Prix without being able to race, he said: “That’s honestly a feeling which in a way, I hope, makes me a little bit agitated, makes me hungry, makes me a little bit edgy.

“I’ll truly know then if my place is back on the grid. If I’m watching as a fan and not really caring too much, then I also have my answer that, okay then, my future looks different. I hope to get these feelings of course, I’m sure I will.

“But it also allows me some time off and some time to rebuild myself. Just to get a year of not so many highs and lows, just something a bit more balanced, also just for me personally I think will make me a little more consistent and a little happier.”

Adaptation key for Sainz in 2023

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz believes he may have to adjust his driving style to be as competitive as his teammate Leclerc next year but is pleased with the progress he has made in 2022.

The Spaniard finished fifth in the championship this year – just like in 2021 – and scored 62 fewer points than Leclerc.

Sainz says his relationship with his teammate is as strong as ever and was thrilled to see Leclerc secure second in Abu Dhabi.

“I think he absolutely deserves it,” said Sainz. “I think he deserves to finish second this year. He’s been super strong all season with this generation of cars. He’s been driving extremely well and I may have to adapt and change a bit my driving to try and be closer to him. But congrats because he did a great season.”

Sainz says Ferrari were “out-developed” by Red Bull and Mercedes in the second half of the season, which explains why they were unable to win any of the last 11 races of 2022.

“Very simply, Red Bull is the stronger package, together with Max and we need to catch up a bit and out-develop them next year,” added Sainz.

“We want to beat them. I think it’s fair, it’s our first year back in the fight for the championship, so there’s still things we need to learn, while Red Bull have been there with Merc the last two seasons. And we are a bit new for this. We’ll learn a lot from this.”

 

 


Portugal breeze past Turkiye and into Euro 2024 knockout stage

Updated 6 sec ago
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Portugal breeze past Turkiye and into Euro 2024 knockout stage

Portugal looked every inch a team aiming to win their second European Championship
Cristiano Ronaldo will have at least two more tries to become the oldest goalscorer at a European Championship

DORTMUND: Portugal swept into the last 16 of Euro 2024 on Saturday after comfortably seeing off Turkiye 3-0 and guaranteeing first place in Group F.
Bernardo Silva’s fine finish in the 21st minute, a comical Samet Akaydin own goal shortly afterwards and Bruno Fernandes’s second-half tap-in gave Portugal a straightforward win in front of swathes of passionate Turkish fans in Dortmund.
Portugal looked every inch a team aiming to win their second European Championship after triumphing in 2016, their star-studded line-up easily dealing with Vincenzo Montella’s enthusiastic but limited Turkiye team.
Cristiano Ronaldo will have at least two more tries to become the oldest goalscorer at a European Championship as Martinez said on Friday that the 39-year-old is in the right shape to play every four days.
It was Ronaldo who unselfishly set up Fernandes for a simple goal in the 56th minute after springing through Turkiye’s offside trap, and he then had time to pose for a selfie with a child fan who invaded the pitch midway through the second half.
Martinez’s side, on a perfect six points, will face one of the four best third-place finishers in the next round and go into their final group game against Georgia without any pressure for a result.
The same cannot be said for Turkiye who need a draw against the Czech Republic on Wednesday to ensure second place.
Turkiye’s passionate support again flocked to the Westfalenstadion in huge numbers, with long tailbacks on the roads leading to the ground several hours before the 6:00 p.m. (1600 GMT) kick-off.
Some fans sat on the top of cars leading chants among the thousands of supporters who crawled toward their destination.
Once inside what was effectively a home crowd let out a deafening chorus of whistles and jeers when Portugal jogged out for their pre-match warm-up.
However, once the match got underway there was a clear gap in class between the two sides and Portugal went deservedly ahead through Silva as the Manchester City midfielder confidently smashed in Nuno Mendes’s deflected low cross.
Soon after, Akaydin gifted Portugal a two-goal lead with his sloppy backpass which turned into an own goal as Zeki Celik and goalkeeper Altay Bayindir tried in vain to prevent the ball crossing the line.
Those two goals and the dominance of the Portuguese players quietened down the partisan crowd and the result was sealed when Fernandes stroked home his former Manchester United teammate Ronaldo’s present of a pass.
The Portugal fans then turned up the volume to celebrate their country reaching the last 16.
And cheers then rang around the ground from both sets of supporters as a pint-sized fan ran onto the pitch midway through the second half, just as the game was stopped to allow Nelson Semedo to replace Joao Cancelo for Portugal.
The youngster was cool enough to grab an amused Ronaldo for a photo and then dashed off on a mazy run his hero would have been proud of, dropping his shoulder on security staff before eventually being carted away from the pitch.
Ronaldo was less amused when five much larger fans then made copycat bids for selfies, only to be showered with boos and refused a photo before annoyed stewards reached them.

Southgate and England team under fire after lackluster display at Euro 2024

Updated 47 min 52 sec ago
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Southgate and England team under fire after lackluster display at Euro 2024

  • After Thursday’s uninspiring 1-1 draw with Denmark, the coach acknowledged “we understand what that will mean for the next few days”
  • former England captain Gary Lineker said: “I can’t imagine anybody, who is English, that would have enjoyed England’s performance because it was lethargic, it was dour...”

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany: Gareth Southgate said he knew it was coming. He was right.
Negativity surrounds the England team — despite leading their group after two games at Euro 2024 and likely to advance to the knockout phase.
After Thursday’s uninspiring 1-1 draw with Denmark, the coach acknowledged “we understand what that will mean for the next few days.”
Indeed, it has fueled concern among fans, English media and former players.
“We have to reflect the mood of the nation,” former England captain Gary Lineker said on his podcast, The Rest is Football. “I can’t imagine anybody, who is English, that would have enjoyed England’s performance because it was lethargic, it was dour...
“You can think of all sorts of words and expletives if you like,” he added, before using one himself.
Lineker’s political opinions have upset the UK government in the recent past — now he has delivered a brutal assessment of the England team.
His comments about England appear to have summed up the mood of many fans.
Southgate’s team were a pre-tournament favorite and beaten finalists at the last Euros.
BBC pundit Alan Shearer described the second half against Denmark as “awful.”
Southgate’s handling of a squad that includes Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden has been brought into question.
“We have world class players so it’s the manager’s job to get the best out of those players,” said Shearer, a former England striker.
Southgate has transformed England’s fortunes since he was appointed in 2016 — leading the country to the semifinals of the World Cup in 2018.
England missed out on a first trophy since winning the 1966 World Cup when they lost on penalties to Italy in the final of the last Euros three years ago.
The 2022 World Cup was England’s worst performance under Southgate when they lost to defending champion France in the quarterfinals.
England were unconvincing in their opener — a 1-0 win over Serbia — and have a few days off before their final Group C game Tuesday against Slovenia.
So, what has gone wrong in Germany?
Expectation
It has been a longstanding complaint that too much is expected of England at international tournaments. Despite having the most popular league in the world — the Premier League — and some of the most successful clubs, England’s sole success on the international stage remains the World Cup it won in 1966. The last Euros was England’s best performance at any tournament since then when finishing runner-up.
Southgate
Ahead of the tournament, Southgate said this would likely be his last in charge of England if he failed to deliver a trophy.
“I’ve been here for almost eight years now and we’ve come close. So, I know that you can’t keep standing in front of the public and saying ‘please do a little more’, because at some point people will lose faith in your message,” he said before the Euros began.
No left side
The England team are looking unbalanced because they essentially have no left side. Luke Shaw is the only designated left back in the squad, but he is still not fully fit after a long-term injury, leaving Kieran Trippier — a right back — to play on the left. Foden is playing as a nominal left winger, but he prefers to drift inside. England are essentially attacking down the right or down the middle, hugely restricting their options and making the team easier to defend against.
Midfield dilemma
England’s longtime midfield issue has not gone away. In fact, it might be worse than ever. Southgate has admitted to doing an “experiment” by selecting right back Trent Alexander-Arnold as a central midfielder alongside Declan Rice. Alexander-Arnold was substituted early in both games. Quite apart from the oddness of Southgate experimenting in such a key position at a major tournament, he is also overlooking three midfielders who finished the English domestic season strongly — Kobbie Mainoo, Adam Wharton and Conor Gallagher.


Georgia get their 1st point but miss a win in 1-1 draw with Czech Republic at Euro 2024

Updated 22 June 2024
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Georgia get their 1st point but miss a win in 1-1 draw with Czech Republic at Euro 2024

  • Georgia took the lead with a Georges Mikautadze penalty given for handball by Czech defender Robin Hranec
  • The Czech team got back into the game when a header rebounded off the post and Patrik Schick scored with his chest

HAMBURG: Georgia earned their first-ever point at a major tournament in a 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic at Euro 2024 on Saturday. It was nearly a win.
Midfielder Saba Lobjanidze fired his shot narrowly over the bar with the last kick of the game as Georgia’s promising three-on-one counterattack came to nothing.
Lobjanidze — who plays for Atlanta United in the US state of Georgia — seemed to be in tears after the final whistle and was comforted by coach Willy Sagnol.
Earlier, video reviews were in the spotlight.
The Czech team dominated the opening stages and celebrated the opening goal in the 23rd minute when Adam Hlozek bundled the ball into the net at the far post off a long throw.
Replays, however, showed Hlozek’s shot had bounced back off goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili and in off the Czech forward’s face and arm.
The situation was reversed when Georgia defender Guram Kashia shot straight at the goalkeeper just before halftime. Georgia’s fans rued the missed chance but celebrated when a video review found the ball had come off Czech defender Robin Hranac’s arm a couple of seconds earlier.
Georgia, the only team making their debut at Euro 2024, then took the lead with a Georges Mikautadze penalty given for handball by Czech defender Robin Hranec.
The Czech team got back into the game when a header rebounded off the post and Patrik Schick scored with his chest for his sixth career goal at the European Championships, ranking him joint-sixth on the all-time list.
Schick limped off soon after and applied ice to his calf, potentially a major concern for the Czech Republic given the Bayer Leverkusen striker’s importance to the team and his long record of previous injuries.
VAR didn’t intervene later in the game when the Czech team appealed for players being pushed by Georgian defenders in the penalty area, perhaps because the contact on both occasions was relatively slight.
The draw means that both teams almost certainly require a win in their last group games to qualify for the knockout stages.
Türkiye and Portugal are the other two teams in Group F. They play later Saturday.


Norris shrugs off McLaren fire to nab Spanish pole after ‘best ever lap’

Updated 22 June 2024
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Norris shrugs off McLaren fire to nab Spanish pole after ‘best ever lap’

  • Lewis Hamilton will start on the second row alongside his Mercedes teammate George Russell
  • Norris produced his one minute 11.383 seconds of magic after a “stressful” day when the McLaren hospitality unit caught fire before third practice

BARCELONA: Lando Norris brushed aside the drama of his McLaren team’s hospitality unit catching fire to produce “the best lap of my life” and deprive Max Verstappen of pole for the Spanish Grand Prix in qualifying on Saturday.
Lewis Hamilton will start on the second row alongside his Mercedes teammate George Russell.
Verstappen looked sure to set off for Sunday’s 10th round of the season from the front of the grid.
But in the last throw of the top-10 shoot-out Norris denied the Red Bull ace by a mere two hundredths of a second.
“Today was the perfect lap,” said Norris after only his second career pole.
“My best lap by a long way, I knew I had to do something perfect, it was probably my best lap ever.”
Norris produced his one minute 11.383 seconds of magic after a “stressful” day when the McLaren hospitality unit caught fire before third practice.
McLaren team boss Zak Brown told Sky Sports one staff member had to go to hospital but had been discharged, adding: “Happy to report everyone is fine.”
“I lost my shoes. It’s all been a bit messy,” said Norris.
“I like to listen to my music loud beforehand, but didn’t have that this time. But it’s not the end of the world. I’m not going to complain about it.”
Turning back to a vintage qualifying session, Norris, whose only other pole came in Russia in 2021, reflected: “It’s been a while since Sochi!
“Max seemed a bit stronger today, but we made some changes,” added the Briton who won his maiden Grand Prix in May in Miami.
“I’m super happy to be on pole, it’s going to be tough but we’re here to win!“
Verstappen, targeting a fourth straight world title, leads the championship by 56 points from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who starts Sunday’s race in fifth, with Norris seven points back in third.
“I think the whole of qualifying was better than practice for me,” said Verstappen, who won his maiden Grand Prix in Barcelona in 2016 and is on a hat-trick after wins in Catalonia in 2022 and 2023.
“It all clicked much better. The other teams are catching up, we need to bring more performance to the car.”
Ferrari-bound Hamilton was happy to be toward the front of the grid as he out-qualified his teammate Russell for only the second time this year.
“It’s good to be back up here, great to see we are progressing,” he said.
“We are slowly climbing closer to the guys in front, it’s really on a knife edge.
“I’m really happy to be in P3 with that long straight to turn one.”
Joining Leclerc on the third row will be his Ferrari teammate and home favorite Carlos Sainz.
Next came the Alpine of Pierre Gasly, the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who has a three-place grid penalty from Canada, Esteban Ocon in the other Alpine and Oscar Piastri in the second McLaren.
After only a tenth of a second had covered the top four in final practice earlier the stage was set for an intriguing pole battle.
Complicating matters was a sizeable drop in temperature, with morning sunshine giving way to heavy cloud cover with the wind picking up.
The action on track though was anything but cool, as drivers scrambled to eke out every last ounce of performance for a Grand Prix won from pole in 24 of 33 races run at the circuit.
After clipping the McLaren of Norris at the end of final practice Leclerc tuned up for qualifying with a trip to the FIA’s headmaster’s study as the race stewards investigated the incident.
Leclerc was arguably fortunate to escape with only a reprimand rather than a grid penalty, announced just before qualifying got under way.
Hamilton grabbed the honors in the first qualifying run, jumping from 14th to first, with Verstappen leading the Mercedes duo after the second session.
Verstappen came alive when it counted most — after a quietish time in the three practice sessions he led Q3 after the first flurry of laps.
All the drivers pitted to prepare for one last attempt at depriving the Red Bull ace from Sunday’s pole, with Norris nailing it to end a trying day on a high.
This is the 10th round of the 24-race season and the first of a triple header with Austria and Silverstone coming up over the next two weekends.


Germany face Switzerland with both teams unbeaten and eyeing top spot in Group A

Updated 22 June 2024
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Germany face Switzerland with both teams unbeaten and eyeing top spot in Group A

  • Both teams impressed in their first games as Germany routed Scotland 5-1 and Switzerland beat Hungary 3-1
  • The Euro 2024 host have already reached the round of 16 and with just a draw will finish top of Group A

FRANKFURT: Germany go for a third straight win in Group A against a Switzerland team that also are unbeaten. Germany have advanced to the knockout stage and Switzerland look sure to confirm their place Sunday.
The kickoff in Frankfurt, at the same time as group rivals Hungary and Scotland meet in Stuttgart, is 9 p.m. local (1900 GMT).
Both teams impressed in their first games as Germany routed Scotland 5-1 and Switzerland beat Hungary 3-1. Germany sustained their form by beating Hungary 2-0, while the Swiss less so in a 1-1 draw with Scotland.
The Euro 2024 host have already reached the round of 16 and with just a draw will finish top of Group A. That would send Germany to Dortmund for a knockout game next Saturday against the runner-up of Group C, which is currently Denmark.
Switzerland will top the group if they win. Thereafter that would send Germany to Berlin to play the runner-up in Group B, which likely will be Italy or Croatia.
Only freakish results could drop Switzerland to third place in the standings. The Swiss start Sunday three points ahead of Scotland, which play Hungary also at 9 p.m. local time in Stuttgart. Switzerland have a huge goal-difference advantage over Scotland.
The rain-soaked Frankfurt field have been a problem, even with a stadium roof that has been closed to protect the turf from the worst of persistent downpours this week.
Moreover, the Germans had a full squad of 26 players in training Saturday morning. Coach Julian Nagelsmann has picked the same starting lineup for both games so far.
Switzerland’s coach Murat Yakin is making changes in style and tactics. Though Kwadwo Duah scored against Hungary, he was dropped to face Scotland in favor of veteran Xherdan Shaqiri on the left side of attack, who duly delivered a standout goal.
Kylian Mbappe’s nose is not the only damaged one at Euro 2024, as Swiss defender Fabian Schär also got a bloodied and fractured nose, though he played on against Scotland and should be available.
The two team captains at Euro 2024, Granit Xhaka and Ilkay Gundogan, both played in a strange game 12 years ago. In a warmup for Euro 2012, which Germany qualified for and Switzerland didn’t, the Swiss gave their neighbors a beating in Basel. It was a rough debut for a 20-year-old German goalkeeper, Marc-André ter Stegen, then as now the backup to Manuel Neuer.
Teams that win all three games in a Euros group have an up-and-down history. At the last edition, Italy swept through their group in Rome en route to the title. At Euro 2008 a vibrant Netherlands team romped through a tough group then lost next in the quarterfinals to Russia. Germany won all three group games in 2012 before losing in the semifinals to Italy and Mario Balotelli.
“It’s often been the case that the grass there isn’t so firm and that players have had problems with it,” said Germany and Stuttgart midfielder Chris Führich on the Frankfurt playing surface.
Fellow midfielder Toni Kroos said: “We’re happy that we’re in the round of 16. Nevertheless, it will be about finishing first in the group.”