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Hamilton targets future after Abu Dhabi

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ABU DHABI:

Lewis Hamilton returns to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend 11 months on from one of the most rancorous days in Formula One history insisting he has put the past behind him.

His bid for an unprecedented eighth drivers’ world title at the Yas Marina circuit last December was thwarted by a combination of incorrect decisions by race officials, wretched bad luck and the opportunism of Max Verstappen.

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As a result, while his Mercedes team triumphed in the constructors’ title race for an eighth consecutive season, he was left to digest the outcome of a sporting injustice which has reverberated ever since.

But Hamilton, who will be 38 in January, and whose act of congratulating his Dutch rival in the immediate aftermath of that bitter defeat concealed a profound disappointment, has remained stoical.

As Red Bull and Verstappen romped to glory in both the teams’ and drivers’ championships this year, while Mercedes grappled to understand and develop a stubbornly temperamental car, he became entirely a team man.

His third consecutive second-placed finish as team-mate George Russell claimed his maiden Grand Prix victory in Brazil last Sunday was a reward of emotional significance just as, ironically, Red Bull’s unity was threatened by internal strife.

“I am very much here in the present,” he said, ahead of this weekend’s season-finale.

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“I am not arriving here thinking of the past at all, not one bit. I am focussed. I’m not sure if our car will work well here this weekend, but if there is a chance, we’ll go for it.”

As more unverified allegations on Wednesday added fuel to a simmering dispute between Verstappen and his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, whose heroic defensive drive last year helped enable the Dutchman’s triumph, the ‘silver arrows’ occupied a position of unity.

“For me, our success in Brazil, the one-two last Sunday, is all down to the huge effort of our team’s workforce in the UK,” said Hamilton.

“They have been so determined all year.”

Sunday’s race will not have the high stakes of 2021, but for Hamilton it represents a last chance to keep alive his record of winning at least once in every season of his record-breaking Formula One career.

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He has a record total of 103 wins to his name, including five at the Yas Marina track where Verstappen has won the last two contests, but such statistics are not his or Mercedes’ priority.

“Lewis doesn’t need us to give him any prioritisation and nor would he ever want that,” said team boss Toto Wolff.

As Hamilton is lauded and Russell praised, Verstappen faces scrutiny following his refusal to obey team orders and assist Perez last Sunday at Interlagos in a manner that brought widespread criticism on social media.

Perez, with an icy undertone, said Verstappen had “showed who he really is” while the two-time champion declined to explain his motives.

After an emergency meeting, Red Bull said the pair had made up and Verstappen would assist Perez this weekend, as he strives to finish second in the title race and give Red Bull a one-two season finish.

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Verstappen will seek a record-extending 15th win in a single season, but appeared rattled in Brazil where he finished sixth and was blamed for a reckless collision with Hamilton – and Ferrari out-performed Red Bull to follow the two Mercedes home.

On a weekend of several decisive showdowns, two-time champion Fernando Alonso will bid to sign off with a flourish for Alpine, who hope to finish fourth in the constructors’, before he moves to Aston Martin.

They lead McLaren, who suffered a pointless double retirement in Brazil by 19 points so look assured of taking the millions of dollars’ prize money on offer.

Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, 35, will also say farewell, not only to Aston Martin, but to F1 and back at the circuit where he won his first title in 2010.

“I am sure this race will bring back happy memories of the last 15 years,” he said. “And I want to go out on a high.”

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Uruguay held by South Korea in goalless stalemate

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DOHA:

Uruguay faltered in their World Cup opener against a lively and energetic South Korea after they were held to a 0-0 draw in Group H on Thursday in a contest where both teams struggled to find the clinical edge.

Clear-cut chances were rare for either side at the Education City Stadium and although Uruguay created more goalscoring opportunities, neither team were able to register a shot on target.

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Uruguay captain Diego Godin was denied by the woodwork while South Korea forward Hwang Ui-jo blasted over the bar with the goal at his mercy, leaving both teams to rue missed chances before group rivals Portugal and Ghana meet later on in the day.

Uruguay’s first sight of goal came in the 19th minute through Federico Valverde, who connected with Jose Maria Gimenez’s pass and took a touch before firing a half-volley towards goal, but his ambitious attempt went just over the bar.

The South Americans had begun to find their footing when South Korea, having been patient so far, disrupted their rhythm and launched a counter-attack from a Uruguay corner before the half-hour mark. Son Heung-min picked up the ball on the left flank and cut inside, skipping past two Uruguay defenders before curling a right-footed effort towards goal, but left back Mathias Olivera was able to clear it away. South Korea should have taken the lead in the 34th minute when Moon-hwan Kim fizzed the ball into the penalty area and into the path of Hwang in front of goal, but the forward could not keep his composure and sent it over the crossbar.

The closest Uruguay came to scoring in the first half was just before the break, when centre back Godin rose highest to power a header from Valverde’s corner but it bounced off the left post and away from goal. Gimenez made a crucial tackle to deny Son five minutes after the restart after a flowing move from South Korea, while Jung Woo-young blocked midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur’s powerful strike at the other end. Uruguay saw more of the ball but found few chances to break through the South Korean defence until the closing stages, when Valverde unleashed a thunderbolt in the final minute of regulation time that struck the top of the post.





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World Cup fans in Qatar introduced to Islam

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DOHA:

The Katara Cultural Village Mosque in Qatar’s capital of Doha has become the focus of attention for World Cup fans who want to get to know about Islam.

Multilingual male and female preachers at the mosque explain the religion and tolerance of Islam to tourists.

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Electronic boards about Islam in more than 30 languages at the door are positioned to allow visitors to view them on their phones. And booklets introducing Islam in different languages ​​are distributed to those who want them.

The Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in Qatar also launched a pavilion to introduce Islam and its teachings during the World Cup 2022.

Also read: Batshuayi fires Belgium to World Cup

World Cup fans encounter hadiths — words, actions or habits of Prophet Muhammad — on the walls of streets, describing the importance of good deeds.

The opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 was last Sunday at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor.

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The tournament’s official mascot, La’eeb, whose name is an Arabic word that means super-skilled player, along with the flags of all 32 participating nations were waving on the field.





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Ronaldo and Brazil enter World Cup fray after Swiss win

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DOHA:

Cristiano Ronaldo will aim to put his painful Manchester United divorce behind him at the World Cup on Thursday as Brazil also make their bow following a win for Switzerland in the early kick-off.

Ronaldo’s preparations for what is likely to be his last World Cup have been overshadowed by his sudden departure from Old Trafford this week after he lambasted the club in a TV interview.

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The Portugal superstar’s form this season has been poor but he is still hoping for a final shot at glory in Qatar after leading his team to the Euro 2016 title.

The 37-year-old, whose club future is uncertain, is aiming to become the first player in history to score at five World Cups.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos said his men were entirely focused on their opening Group H match against Ghana despite the distractions of the media circus surrounding their captain.

“The players are absolutely focused, with a great spirit, convinced about what they have to do, what their objectives are and realistic about the challenges they are facing,” he said.

“Winning a competition of this magnitude is difficult.”

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World Cup favourites Brazil launch their bid for a record-extending sixth global crown against a dangerous Serbia side.

Brazil boast a frightening array of attacking talent including Paris Saint-German forward Neymar and Real Madrid pair Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo.

Coach Tite will be wary of his Group G opponents after witnessing shock defeats for Argentina and Germany already in Qatar.

“In my opinion these players (attackers) will help Neymar because they can divide up the responsibility and create space for him,” said veteran Brazil skipper Thiago Silva.

“The atmosphere in the squad is super-healthy,” he added. “The mixture of young players and more experienced ones creates a great connection.”

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Serbia appear a more dangerous proposition than four years ago, when they also faced Brazil in the group stage but lost 2-0 and exited in the first round.

“We are afraid of nobody in the world, not even Brazil,” said Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic, who hopes prolific Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic will be fit for the match at the Lusail Stadium.

Switzerland and Cameroon, also in Brazil’s group, kicked off Thursday’s action in Qatar, with the Swiss winning 1-0 courtesy of a goal from Cameroon-born Breel Embolo.

The forward struck three minutes into the second half at Al Janoub Stadium as Switzerland secured a vital three points.

Granit Xhaka and Remo Freuler worked the ball out wide on the right to Xherdan Shaqiri, whose low cross into the area was swept home by an unmarked Embolo, who chose not to celebrate against his birth country.

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“It’s quite special for him because of his links to Cameroon — I’m very happy he’s playing for us,” said Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer. “He’s always right there when you need him.”

Defeat condemned Cameroon to their eighth straight loss at World Cups — a miserable run stretching all the way back to 2002.

Son Heung-min was named in the starting line-up for South Korea’s Group H opener against Uruguay at 1300 GMT even though he was wearing a mask after suffering a fracture around his left eye earlier this month.

Uruguay coach Diego Alonso selected Luis Suarez up front, with fellow veteran Edinson Cavani on the bench.

Germany coach Hansi Flick said no member of his team was safe after their shock 2-1 defeat against Japan on Wednesday.

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The four-time champions, who next face Spain, are facing a nightmare scenario of a second consecutive group-stage exit after their early departure in Russia in 2018.

“You can understand that we are discussing every matter of personnel and every position,” Flick said.





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