Max Verstappen on pole as he bids to end barren run in Bahrain

Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives at the Sakhir Circuit in Bahrain during the Grand Prix weekend. (AFP)
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Updated 05 March 2023
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Max Verstappen on pole as he bids to end barren run in Bahrain

  • The two-time reigning champion seemed cursed in Sakhir last year when his Red Bull failed just laps from the end

SAKHIR, Bahrain: Formula One champion Max Verstappen is in the right place to win his first Bahrain Grand Prix by starting from the pole in Sunday’s season-opening race.
The desert track has been barren for Verstappen, who failed to finish three of his first four races there. The two-time reigning champion seemed cursed in Sakhir last year when his Red Bull failed just laps from the end with a steering problem.
Ferrari clinched a 1-2 finish with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. and appeared to be Verstappen’s top challengers for last year’s title. But after opening 2022 with two DNFs in three races, Verstappen recovered to win an F1 record 15 races in a dominating year.
“Hopefully no crazy things will happen,” Verstappen said of Sunday. He will be joined on the front row by Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez.
Perez beat Leclerc to qualify second, .138 seconds behind Verstappen under the floodlights.
“Very happy to be on pole,” Verstappen said after securing his 21st career pole. “We’ve shown really good race pace but we need to show that (on Sunday).”
Leclerc was third and starts on the second row alongside teammate Sainz.
“We were in the fight (for pole), which I probably did not expect. That’s a good surprise,” Leclerc said. “Realistically, they (Red Bull) seem to be very, very quick. We have taken a step forward but I don’t think it’s enough.”
Leclerc posted only one time in the final qualifying group nd didn’t take a last shot at pole in order to save tires for Sunday.
“We need to keep in our mind that in the race run, we seem to be a little bit on the backfoot compared to Red Bull,” he said. “I think we are in a better place starting third with new tires than starting first with old or a bit further up.”
Fernando Alonso showed good speed for Aston Martin as the 41-year-old Spaniard qualified fifth, followed by Mercedes drivers George Russell and seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton.
Alonso was not expecting to be challenging for his 99th career podium in his first race for Aston Martin.
“Going for a podium in race one, it feels too good to be true,” Alonso said. “If we have an opportunity for sure, we will take it.”
It shows how far performance has fallen at once-dominant Mercedes — which won eight straight constructors’ titles — that both drivers trailed Alonso yet still felt their performances exceeded expectations.
“I thought today may be worse than it ended up being,” Hamilton said. “We did some great work overnight.”
Russell believes a realistic target is third place on Sunday but that Alonso might get in the way.
“Qualifying three tenths behind Ferrari when they have probably been the fastest car on single lap pace is positive,” Russell said. “Fernando is probably more of a dark horse than Ferrari.”
Alonso’s teammate, Lance Stroll, was eighth.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and new Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10.
Alonso led Friday’s second practice ahead of the two Red Bulls, raising hopes he could challenge for pole. And then Stroll surprised many observers by returning so quickly behind the wheel, after missing preseason testing because of an injury in a bicycle accident. He needed minor surgery on his right wrist.
F1 newcomer Logan Sargeant, the first American driver on the grid since 2015, was 16th for Williams. He surged up from last on his last lap and narrowly missed out on advancing into the second round, with McLaren’s Lando Norris just edging him out.
Veteran Kevin Magnussen was 17th for Haas; new McLaren driver Oscar Piastri was 18th, then AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries. Frenchman Pierre Gasly, who has won an F1 race, was last on his Alpine debut.
In the third and final practice, Hamilton was fourth ahead of Leclerc and Russell.
Hamilton sounded frustrated with his team when they didn’t get back out in time at the end for practice starts.
“Come on guys. This is twice now,” said Hamilton, whose car was pushed back into the garage.
Hamilton didn’t win a race last year for the first time in his 16-year career. Russell got the team’s only victory in the penultimate race in Brazil.
Team principal Toto Wolff thinks there will be wins, and hopefully they won’t take so long.
“I’m sure we can win races this season,” he said after qualifying. “But it’s really the mid and long term that we need to look at, and which decisions we need to take.”


Dominant Spain brush past Italy to reach Euro 2024 knockouts

Updated 21 June 2024
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Dominant Spain brush past Italy to reach Euro 2024 knockouts

  • For Italy Thursday’s deserved defeat was a reality check as vibrant Spain peppered the brilliant Gianliugi Donnarumma’s goal throughout the match while the Azzurri failed to have a single attempt on target

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany: Spain qualified for the last 16 of Euro 2024 with a match to spare on Thursday after beating Italy 1-0 in a dominant display which ensured that La Roja would go through as Group B winners.
Riccardo Calafiori’s own goal nine minutes after half-time was the difference between the two sides at Gelsenkirchen in the biggest match to date at the tournament in Germany.
But the slender margin of victory didn’t reflect a statement performance from Spain who completely nullified Italy and should have had the game won by half-time, as they did in their opening round thumping of Croatia.
Nico Williams was the star for Spain as he ran Napoli right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo ragged and supplied the cross from which the unfortunate Calafiori poked the winning goal into his own net.
Luis de la Fuente’s team have a perfect six points at the top of the group and take on Albania on Monday knowing that they are already in the knockout rounds and playing like potential champions.
For Italy Thursday’s deserved defeat was a reality check as vibrant Spain peppered the brilliant Gianliugi Donnarumma’s goal throughout the match while the Azzurri failed to have a single attempt on target.
It was a performance reminiscent of the Euro 2012 final between the two teams when Spain crushed Italy 4-0 in the last international hurrah for tiki-taka football.
However all is not lost for Luciano Spalletti’s team, who are second on three points, as a draw with Croatia on Monday will be enough to guarantee qualification behind Spain.
Spain could have been ahead twice in the first 10 minutes but squandered two great headed chances.
Less than two minutes were on the clock when an unmarked Pedri nodded Williams’ pinpoint cross straight at Donnarumma.
And then Williams, who had a field day against Di Lorenzo, was the guilty party by somehow heading wide Alvaro Morata’s superbly delivered, inswinging ball from the left flank.
Spain were clearly on top as Italy struggled to get out of their half, Gianluca Scamacca toiling on his own up front with little support and wasting possession when it did come his way.
Donnarumma had to be at his best twice within a matter of seconds when he first stuck out a foot to deny Morata and then pulled off a superb fingertip save which kept out Fabian Ruiz’s powerful drive from distance.
Meanwhile at the other end of the pitch Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon was a virtual spectator as Italy’s sole shot in the first half came just before the break when Federico Chiesa blazed a poor effort over from a difficult position.
The same pattern of Spanish possession and Italian defending continued after half-time and Pedri again wasted a great chance in the 51st minute, slamming wide after Marc Cucurella pulled back a perfect low cross.
But Spain got the breakthrough soon after and it came through more sensational play from Williams on the left, who made mincemeat of Di Lorenzo before fizzing across a ball which Calafiori couldn’t help but divert into his own goal.
La Roja went close to doubling their lead with two distance strikes from Morata and teen sensation Lamine Yamal, before the superb Williams smashed an effort past Donnarumma which came crashing out off the crossbar in the 71st minute.
Italy pushed forward in hope of an equalizer after Mattia Zaccagni and Mateo Retegui replaced the ineffective Chiesa and Scamacca.
But in the dying moments Donnarumma again made two superb saves to twice stop Ayoze Perez making the scoreline better reflect a one-sided contest.


Bumrah leads India to 47-run win over Afghanistan in Super Eight at T20 World Cup

Updated 20 June 2024
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Bumrah leads India to 47-run win over Afghanistan in Super Eight at T20 World Cup

  • Bumrah’s four-over spell was aided by Arshdeep Singh, who finished with 3-36
  • Spinners Kuldeep Yadav (2-32) and Axar Patel (1-15) shared three wickets as Afghanistan were bowled out for 134 runs

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados: Fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah picked three wickets for just seven runs as India beat Afghanistan by 47 runs in their Super Eight clash at the Twenty20 World Cup on Thursday.
Bumrah’s four-over spell was aided by Arshdeep Singh, who finished with 3-36. Spinners Kuldeep Yadav (2-32) and Axar Patel (1-15) shared three wickets as Afghanistan were bowled out for 134 runs.
Earlier, Suryakumar Yadav scored 53 off 28 balls — his fifth T20 World Cup half-century — as India reached 181-8 in 20 overs after opting to bat.
Yadav hit three sixes and five fours, while Hardik Pandya scored 32 off 24 balls, including two sixes.
India’s next Super Eight game is on Saturday, against Bangladesh in Antigua. Afghanistan will play Australia in St. Vincent, also on Saturday.
Yadav was named player of the match.
“I am clear in my mind how I want to bat,” he said. “There’s a lot of hard work, process and routine involved in it. You just need to know your game plan and just play accordingly. When Hardik (Pandya) came in to bat, we discussed about batting with (aggressive) intent. In the end, we were happy with 180.”
On a slow-paced Barbados wicket, India had made a sluggish start. Skipper Rohit Sharma was out caught for eight, while star batter Virat Kohli only managed run-a-ball 24.
Rishabh Pant, batting at three, provided some acceleration — he scored 20 off 11 balls with four fours.
Afghanistan skipper and wrist spinner Rashid Khan did damage to India’s top order, dismissing both Kohli and Pant, the latter out lbw. It was the first time Khan picked up wickets against India in T20s.
India were down to 62-3 in 8.3 overs, when Yadav played a rescuing hand. He added 28 of 14 balls with Shivam Dube (10) and then the match-turning 60 runs with Pandya.
Yadav’s stand with Pandya came off only 37 balls as India scored 102 runs off the final 10 overs.
Rashid Khan finished with 3-26 in four overs.
Afghanistan’s chase got off to a poor start against Bumrah — he sent back both openers Rahmanullah Gurbaz (11) and Haratullah Zazai (2) cheaply.
In between, Axar Patel struck in the fourth over as Ibrahim Zadran was out for eight, and Afghanistan slipped to 23-3 in 4.1 overs.
Gulbadin Naib and Azatullah Omarzai added 44 off 38 balls for the fourth wicket. Thereafter, India’s spinners struck at regular intervals to restrict their opponents.
Ravindra Jadeja picked 1-20 in three overs. Afghanistan lost their last five wickets for 32 runs across 28 deliveries as India crossed the finish line with ease.


Lacklustre England held by Denmark at Euro 2024

Updated 20 June 2024
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Lacklustre England held by Denmark at Euro 2024

  • Harry Kane had given the Three Lions an early lead as England pounced on a Danish defensive error
  • Hjulmand’s rocket from outside the box levelled before half-time and Denmark were left to rue missing late chances to secure a famous victory

FRANKFURT: England failed to guarantee their place in the knockout stages of Euro 2024 after Morten Hjulmand’s spectacular strike earned Denmark a 1-1 draw on Thursday.
A point was the least the Danes deserved as England again flattered to deceive in Frankfurt after an underwhelming 1-0 win over Serbia to open their tournament.
Harry Kane had given the Three Lions an early lead as England pounced on a Danish defensive error.
Hjulmand’s rocket from outside the box levelled before half-time and Denmark were left to rue missing late chances to secure a famous victory.
England remain on top of Group C, two points clear of Slovenia, who they face in Cologne on Tuesday, and Denmark.
Serbia’s late equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Slovenia earlier on Thursday also keeps their destiny in their own hands.
England boss Gareth Southgate said on Wednesday that he avoids media coverage during tournaments to escape negative stories.
But will be braced for more criticism after another flat display from one of the pre-tournament favorites.
Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel claimed on the eve of the game they would not be fueled by revenge for their Euro 2020 semifinal heartbreak to England three years ago.
However, the Danes were a different beast from the side that disappointed at the 2022 World Cup and in drawing against Slovenia to open their tournament in Germany.
Denmark had made the brighter start as both sides struggled to cope with a bobbly pitch in Frankfurt that cut up badly in just its second game of five at Euro 2024.
Yet, England capitalized on a howler from Hjulmand’s men to take the lead on 18 minutes.
Victor Kristiansen was caught unaware of Kyle Walker’s run down the right and his deflected low cross fell perfectly for Kane to roll in his 13th goal at major tournaments.
Failing to build on early 1-0 leads has been a consistent criticism of England under Southgate.
In the 2018 World Cup semifinal and final of Euro 2020, Croatia and Italy were able to wrestle away momentum from the Three Lions.
This time Denmark were not deterred by conceding, although it took a spectacular strike to bring them level.
Hjulmand was given far too much room by the England midfield to take aim but he took full advantage form long range with a blistering shot that clipped the inside of the post on its way in.
Southgate made no changes at the break, but the future of his experiment of playing Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold in a midfield role is in doubt after he was hooked for Conor Gallagher on 55 minutes.
Phil Foden’s form for England had been a source of much debate after he again failed to shine at international level against Serbia.
The Manchester City playmaker looked much more like the man that won Premier League player of the year awards this season and was inches away from restoring England’s lead with a low drive that came crashing back off the post.
Southgate’s caution has been criticized in the past, but he was bold with his changes in the search for a winner as Kane, Foden and Bukayo Saka were sacrificed for Eberechi Eze, Ollie Watkins and Jarrod Bowen.
Watkins nearly made an immediate impact as he was denied by Schmeichel after a brilliant through ball from Jude Bellingham.
Yet, it was Denmark who had the better chances to take all three points in the closing stages.
Andreas Christensen spooned over when unmarked from a corner before Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg curled inches wide.


Ukraine seek to bounce back against Slovakia after surprise opening loss

Updated 20 June 2024
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Ukraine seek to bounce back against Slovakia after surprise opening loss

  • Ukraine had a shock 3-0 loss to Romania that included costly errors from Real Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin
  • Another loss could mean elimination for Ukraine, which were a quarterfinalist in 2021

DUESSELDORF, Germany: Slovakia face Ukraine on Friday in Duesseldorf in their second Group E match at the European Championship.

Slovakia are second to Romania on goal difference, and Ukraine are last. Romania and Belgium play on Saturday.
Ukraine had a shock 3-0 loss to Romania that included costly errors from Real Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin. Another loss could mean elimination for Ukraine, which were a quarterfinalist in 2021.
Ukrainian players apologized to their fans for the Romania loss, and held a team meeting in the locker room after that game without coach Serhiy Rebrov present to work out what went wrong. That was “absolutely normal,” the coach said Thursday.
Slovakia are riding high after surprising Belgium 1-0 but needed two video reviews to overturn Belgium goals. One was deemed offside and a sensor in the ball detected a handball on the second.
The Slovakians know not to get too excited by an opening win. At the last European Championship they beat Poland but then lost to Sweden and Spain and didn’t advance. That meant there was only “a bit of euphoria for a few short hours” when Slovakia beat Belgium this time, coach Francesco Calzona said.
Ukraine coach Rebrov indicated he will make changes to the lineup which lost to Romania and said some unnamed players were carrying “micro-injuries.”
Defender Vitaliy Mykolenko sustained severe bruising in a pre-tournament friendly with Moldova and was an unused substitute against Romania but was expected to train with the team Thursday evening, Rebrov said.
One option for Rebrov could be to replace 34-year-old captain Taras Stepanenko with the 22-year-old Volodymyr Brazhko in defensive midfield. Brazhko debuted for the team only in March as Ukraine qualified for Euro 2024 through the playoffs.
Slovakia coach Calzona says his players are all available but he has yet to decide on his starting lineup.
The average age of Slovakia’s starting lineup in the win over Belgium was over 30 as the team relied on the experience of two 37-year-olds, defender Peter Pekarik and Juraj Kucka, and the 35-year-old goalkeeper Martin Dubravka. Ukraine’s players against Romania were on average four and a half years younger.
The teams have a fairly even record, with three wins for Slovakia, two for Ukraine and three draws. Slovakia won their last game 4-1 in 2018.
A second win would make history for Slovakia, which have never won more than one game in any tournament they’ve played as an independent nation. As part of Czechoslovakia, they did win the 1976 European Championship, though.
“We want to turn the page and concentrate 100 percent on the Slovakia game... (The Romania game) is a very painful result for us but we need to learn the lessons and get ready for tomorrow’s game,” said Ukraine left back Oleksandr Zinchenko.
“I think our greatest quality is humility. We know that we always need to give 110 percent because we’re a small nation and we always want to put a big smile on the faces of our fans and our people,” said Calzona.
Slovak defender David Hancko said: “Ukraine has wonderful, young, talented players. They have a good system, they’re strong on the ball. ... We must play to the best of our abilities to be able to beat them.”


France coach says team doing all to ensure Mbappé available for Netherlands match at Euro 2024

Updated 20 June 2024
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France coach says team doing all to ensure Mbappé available for Netherlands match at Euro 2024

  • “He was able to take part in some light exercises yesterday,″ Deschamps said

LEIPZIG, Germany: France coach Didier Deschamps says his team are doing all “to ensure” Kylian Mbappé is available for the Euro 2024 clash against the Netherlands on Friday.
“Everything is going well, after the shock we had. He was able to take part in some light exercises yesterday and that will be the same this evening″ Deschamps said Thursday. “We’ll do all we can to ensure that he’ll be available tomorrow.”
Mbappé broke his nose in France’s opening 1-0 win over Austria on Monday when his face collided with Austria defender Kevin Danso’s shoulder. Blood stained his white France jersey. If he plays, he’ll need to wear a mask. But it remains uncertain.
Mbappé returned to light training on Wednesday and was expected to continue preparations on Thursday.