F1 returns at Spa after drama in the paddock if not in the title race

By Sports Desk August 24, 2022

Formula One's midseason break delivered drama that the title race so far perhaps had not.

The first half of the campaign had its own intriguing narratives, with Ferrari's frequent collapses and Mercedes' unprecedented struggles, but those strands only served to allow Max Verstappen to build a healthy lead at the top of the standings.

Attention has turned to those in the midfield in recent weeks, though, with Sebastian Vettel's imminent retirement prompting a series of developments that have not yet slowed.

Alpine have been at the heart of the drama, losing Fernando Alonso to Aston Martin in Vettel's place and then failing to secure Oscar Piastri as his replacement.

Piastri instead seems set for McLaren, who have announced Daniel Ricciardo will be leaving the team.

For Alpine then, there will be some relief that focus can now return to the track at the Belgian Grand Prix, with Verstappen set to resume his role at centre stage.

Qualifying key to Red Bull repeat

For those hoping to reel in Verstappen's 80-point lead, they will hope to get more opportunity to attack him than at Spa in 2021, when he started from pole and completed just two laps behind a safety car to claim victory amid a deluge at the circuit in Stavelot.

That result actually continued a recent trend in Belgium, where recovering from a poor qualifying session has proven increasingly tricky.

The past seven winners of the Belgian GP have started from the front row of the grid, with Verstappen among six of those to line up on pole.

Repeating the feat has not been quite so straightforward, however, as Verstappen will be looking to become the first driver to win this race from pole in consecutive entries since Ayrton Senna did so a remarkable four years in a row between 1988 and 1991.

Senna had five Belgian GP wins in total, behind only Michael Schumacher (six). Lewis Hamilton (four) will be bidding to join the Brazilian this weekend.

In-demand Fernando on top form

Alonso will hope his shock move to Aston Martin does not knock his final season with Alpine off course, as the Spaniard had refound form before stunning his team during the break.

The two-time world champion has earned points in each of his past eight races for his best run since another sequence of eight in 2018.

Alonso has not finished in the points in more than eight straight races since 2014, when he put together 15 in a row – the last of them being in Belgium.

But perhaps this could instead be a strong weekend for Alonso's future employers and the man he will replace.

Vettel's best qualifying performance at Aston Martin was fifth at Spa in 2021, finishing fifth on race day, too. Only in Azerbaijan last year (second) has he enjoyed a better result with the team.

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  • Costa Rica can 'still dream' after late World Cup win against Japan Costa Rica can 'still dream' after late World Cup win against Japan

    Luis Fernando Suarez is relieved his Costa Rica team can "still dream" after they sealed a vital 1-0 win against Japan at the World Cup on Sunday.

    Coming off the back of a 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Spain in their opening game, Keysher Fuller's 81st-minute strike against the run of play at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium handed Costa Rica a win that gives them a chance of advancing to the knockout stage in Qatar.

    Los Ticos became the first team to concede seven goals in a game and then win their next match at the World Cup since Paraguay in 1958 (lost 7-3 to France, won 3-2 against Scotland).

    Head coach Suarez said he did not want to discuss "tactics or technical aspects" of the win as he praised his team at his post-match press conference.

    "I believe the main thing was our ability to do such amazing things," he said. "I'm not going to talk about tactical or technical aspects, today I need to value and appreciate what they have done to get this result.

    "We had to face many challenges but we firmly believed and wanted to be 100 per cent committed for our country to play well against a strong opponent like Japan.

    "We are alive [in the group], that is the main thing and no-one can forget about us yet. We can still dream."

    Fuller was the hero, with his goal the only shot Costa Rica have had on target in the tournament so far, and the 28-year-old added: "The main thing was to keep ourselves alive and to win, and we managed to do so.

    "We were in pain after the Spain defeat, but now we took a weight off our shoulders. We are a group that wants to achieve great things."

    Japan struggled to reproduce the form that saw them shock Germany in their opening game in Qatar, but the Samurai Blue still dominated large parts of the game, having 13 shots to Costa Rica's four and recording an expected goals (xG) rate of 0.8 to their opponents' 0.1.

    Head coach Hajime Moriyasu was left disappointed but stated in his press conference that his team will go into their final Group E clash against Spain with confidence.

    "It wasn't a bad match," he insisted. "In the second half we were trying to control the game and if we could have had total control, we would have won, but it didn't happen.

    "We beat Germany but that does not mean we will beat Spain. Both countries are World Cup winners, we have a lot of respect for them.

    "The Spain match will be tough but I think there is a good chance for us to win, so we have to prepare and go with confidence."

  • South Korea v Ghana: Taeguk Warriors targeting apparent lack of 'teamwork' as Addo keeps faith South Korea v Ghana: Taeguk Warriors targeting apparent lack of 'teamwork' as Addo keeps faith

    Unity will likely be key if Ghana are to avoid an early elimination from the World Cup, though that is seemingly an area upcoming opponents South Korea are aiming to exploit.

    The Black Stars put up a good fight as they lost 3-2 to Portugal, almost rescuing a commendable point only to see Inaki Williams slip at the vital moment after stealing the ball off goalkeeper Diogo Costa.

    As such, defeat at Education City on Monday will see Ghana exit at the group stage in consecutive appearances at the World Cup (also in 2014) after reaching the knockout rounds in both of their first two (2006 and 2010).

    But Ghana coach Otto Addo retains a positive outlook.

    Granted, his optimism is based partly on Portugal doing Ghana a favour against Uruguay, but Addo sees a real possibility of the Black Stars sitting second in Group H heading into the final game of the first stage.

    Asked if he was confident Ghana could still reach the last 16, Addo said: "First of all, certainly, we have a chance, especially because [South Korea and Uruguay] played a draw.

    "If we win against South Korea and Portugal wins, hopefully, against Uruguay, then we will be second, so the chance is still great.

    "For sure, it will be very, very tough to beat South Korea because they are good, but now we have to win. We are under pressure, but they are too."

    Ghana have not won any of their past five World Cup matches but they rarely fail to score, having netted at least once in six successive games at the tournament – Nigeria (eight) are the only African team to better that streak.

    With that in mind, South Korea will probably need to improve on their run of not scoring in three of their past five World Cup outings if they are to prevail on Monday.

    On top of that, they have failed to get a single shot on target in two of their most recent four fixtures at the tournament, and that includes the stalemate with Uruguay when they looked somewhat toothless.

    However, Paulo Bento's men seem to feel there will be an element of Ghana not helping themselves.

    Midfielder Jeong Woo-yeong said: "They are a fast team, but if we can take advantage of space behind their defence, I think we should have some opportunities.

    "They didn't seem to have such great team work. We played well in our first match and we'll try to build on that against Ghana."

    Fellow midfielder Song Min-kyu did not question Ghana's work ethic, though he picked up on a similar theme with regards to exploiting the Black Star's backline.

    "They have some speedy and physical players with good skills. We know we have to be prepared against them.

    "But we also saw that they had some holes behind their defense, and we should try to exploit that extra space."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    South Korea – Lee Kang-in

    Son Heung-min is, of course, South Korea's star. He will undoubtedly be expected to lead from the front, but he was ineffective against Portugal, managing just a single shot.

    Lee had some bright moments off the bench and ended up recording two key passes, a figure bettered by none of his team-mates. It is unclear if he will come into the starting XI, but he certainly has the ability to influence proceedings off the bench.

    Ghana – Thomas Partey

    Arsenal midfielder Partey showed how important he is to Ghana in the defeat to Portugal. Perhaps not known as a creator, he laid on two chances to team-mates in that game, a joint-high for Addo's side.

    But on top of that, he had the most touches (68), successful passes (47) and tackles (four) in the Ghana team. If they do beat South Korea, he will surely have played a vital role.

    PREDICTION

    With a 40.9 per cent chance of winning, South Korea go into this as the favourites according to Stats Perform data. However, the win probability calculator suggests it could be a very tight affair.

    The likelihood of a Ghana win sits at 31.3 per cent, meaning they have every right to feel they can leave with the three points – though a draw looks almost as likely (27.8 per cent).

  • Japan 0-1 Costa Rica: Fuller strike leaves World Cup door ajar for Germany Japan 0-1 Costa Rica: Fuller strike leaves World Cup door ajar for Germany

    Costa Rica produced a late smash and grab to beat Japan 1-0 on Sunday, giving themselves and Germany a potential route back into the World Cup in the process.

    A listless contest that looked set to become the sixth stalemate of the tournament so far finally produced something of note when Keysher Fuller curled a shot into the top-left corner with nine minutes remaining.

    Japan had largely been the better side, particularly in the second half, but Costa Rica took the lead with their first shot on target of the tournament.

    The result leaves both teams on three points heading into the final games, with Germany now in with a chance of progressing to the knockout stage with a win against Costa Rica in their final game whatever their result against Spain later on Sunday.


    The only real moment of note in a tentative first half came when Ritsu Doan fizzed a low ball across the six-yard box from the right, but there were no Japan players on hand to get on the end of it.

    Takuma Asano came on at half-time and the change nearly yielded an immediate impact as his touch to Hidemasa Morita 25 seconds into the second period led to the latter having the first shot on target of the contest, with Keylor Navas diving to his left to palm it away.

    Japan showed more intent to go and win the game in the second half, with Yuki Soma first cutting inside from the left and firing high and wide, before putting a free-kick from the edge of the box over the bar.

    The surprise moment came in the 81st minute though as a poor Japan clearance saw the ball come to Yeltsin Tejeda, who played in Fuller to shoot, with Japanese goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda getting stuck under the ball and failing to keep it out.

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