Marquez and Honda returning to winning ways to extend Sachsenring run

By Sports Desk June 20, 2021

Marc Marquez claimed his first race win since returning from injury as he ended Honda's MotoGP drought with a dazzling ride at the German Grand Prix.

A six-time world champion who missed nearly all of the 2020 season – as well as the start of this year's campaign – due to a broken right arm, Marquez had failed to finish in his three previous races, a career first. 

However, the Spaniard clearly felt right at home around a Sachsenring track where he had won his previous 10 outings, including seven in a row in the top category between 2013 and 2019.

Further success on German soil appeared a tall order considering both his form and also his starting position following qualifying, yet Marquez burst off the line to go from fifth to second in a flash and was out in front by the end of lap one.

It was a lead he retained for the remainder of the race to become just the second rider ever to take eight consecutive premier class wins at the same circuit.

Aleix Espargaro put the early pressure on as pole-sitter Johann Zarco slipped back, though the former's challenge faded as the laps ticked by.

Instead it was Miguel Oliveira – winner of the Catalan Grand Prix last time out – who headed the chasing pack, the Portuguese getting inside a second of the frontrunner at one stage, but Marquez remained calm under pressure and was even able to pull away in the closing laps.

His victory means Honda have now won 17 of the 23 MotoGP races at the venue, though this is the first triumph for the manufacturer since the 2019 Valencia Grand Prix, a barren run of 21 outings – the worst in their history – that is finally over.

Emotions were understandably high at the result. There were tears on the track and in the garage, while Marquez dropped to his knees after dismounting his bike and looked skywards appearing to offer a prayer.

As for the championship standings, leader Fabio Quartararo extended his lead thanks to a third-place finish. The Frenchman is now 22 points clear of compatriot Zarco, while Jack Miller sits a further nine back in third place.

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  • South Korea v Portugal: Sense of revenge could be enough motivation for A Selecao South Korea v Portugal: Sense of revenge could be enough motivation for A Selecao

    It often feels like football works in cycles.

    A few months beyond 20 years since a crunch group tie at the World Cup, South Korea and Portugal are ready to do it all again.

    The Selecao are already through after two wins from two against Ghana and Uruguay, and barring a three-goal turnaround, their progression will come as group winners.

    Head coach Fernando Santos could decide to rotate, but then again, perhaps the smell of revenge will be enough for him to go full strength once more.

    The only previous meeting between South Korea and Portugal came at the 2002 World Cup, which South Korea won 1-0 on home soil in the final game of the group stage, a result that eliminated Portugal from the tournament.

    This time it will be all or nothing for South Korea with only a win being enough, while also needing Uruguay to narrowly beat Ghana.

    Paulo Bento's men have lost five of their last seven World Cup matches (W1 D1), as many as they had in their previous 16 (W5 D6), and are looking to win their third group game for just the third time at the tournament, previously doing so against Portugal in 2002, as mentioned, and in 2018 against Germany.

    The first goal will be especially important as Portugal are yet to lose a match at the World Cup when they have scored first (P18 W15 D3), doing so without losing more than any other nation in tournament history.

     

    Bento will not be present for the game after receiving a red card at the end of the 3-2 defeat to Ghana, furiously reacting to referee Anthony Taylor's decision to blow the full-time whistle after his team had won a corner.

    "We shall continue to prepare in same way as other matches – our strategy will not fail," his assistant Sergio Costa said after that game. "He won't be present on the matchday, which is a loss because Paulo is obviously a great manager, but I think it will bring us together."

    The irony being that Bento played for Portugal in that 2002 humiliation against South Korea. In fact it turned out to be his final game for the national side, before returning as head coach between 2010 and 2014.

    Portugal, meanwhile, are looking to win all three group-stage matches for just a third time, also doing so in 1966 and 2006.

    If Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. can do so while also ending South Korea's tournament, there will likely be a sense of payback to go with it.
     

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    South Korea – Son Heung-min

    Son was always going to be the main man for his country, but so far the Tottenham attacker has been unable to show his true worth in Qatar.

    He has been a generational talent for his country, though. Since the start of the 2010-11 campaign, Son has scored more goals in Europe's top five leagues than any other South Korea player (137).

    Son also had the most shots (40), shots on target (19), scored the most goals (5) and created the most chances (27) of any player for South Korea during qualifying.

    Portugal – Bruno Fernandes

    While most eyes have been on Ronaldo, as ever, his former Manchester United team-mate has been the real MVP of the World Cup for his country so far.

    Fernandes has been involved in four of Portugal's five goals (two goals, two assists), and is only the second player this century to have registered multiple goals and assists in a team's first two group-stage matches, after Karim Benzema for France in 2014.

    He also created 21 chances in qualifying, more than any other Portuguese player.

    PREDICTION

    Portugal lack a desperate need for a result in terms of winning the group, and the Opta prediction model does not have them as overwhelming favourites, though Santos' men are still expected to win with a victory chance percentage of 58.4.

    The draw, which like a Portugal win is of no use either to South Korea's hopes, is rated at 22.3 per cent, while that all important victory for the Taegeuk Warriors is given a 19.3 per cent chance.

  • Ghana v Uruguay: Now interesting Barcelona, Kudus is a star in the making, says Ayew Ghana v Uruguay: Now interesting Barcelona, Kudus is a star in the making, says Ayew

    Ghana captain Andre Ayew knows there is more to come from Mohammed Kudus, who has cemented his place as one of the young stars of the 2022 World Cup.

    Kudus, who was excellent in Ghana's opening defeat to Portugal, scored twice for the Black Stars to help them to a 3-2 win over South Korea last time out.

    That result means Otto Addo's team head into their final Group H match, against Uruguay – a fixture that has plenty of history to it – knowing a win would guarantee their place in the last 16, while a draw may also be enough.

    Kudus, who was close to joining Everton in August, arrived in Qatar having enjoyed a fine start to the season for Ajax, scoring 10 times, and his form at the tournament has been attracting interest from bigger clubs, with Barcelona director Jordi Cruyff confirming the Blaugrana have been tracking the 22-year-old.

    "He has a bright future in front of him," Ayew said of Kudus.

    "We know this, I know this, Ghana knows it now, the world is going to know it. You'll see, more is coming from my boy.

    "Hopefully he can keep on shining because he has a really bright future."

    Friday's match comes over 12 years on from their only previous World Cup meeting in the quarter-finals in South Africa.

    With the game level at 1-1, Luis Suarez used his hand to block Dominic Adiyiah's header on the line. 

    The Uruguay striker was sent off, but Asamoah Gyan rattled the crossbar from the resulting spot-kick, before Ghana lost the subsequent penalty shoot-out.

    While Addo has insisted Ghana are not out for revenge, there will no doubt be plenty of bite to the encounter at Al Janoub Stadium.

    Uruguay have taken just one point from their opening two matches and need to win to progress, while also relying on Portugal not to slip up against South Korea.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Ghana – Mohammed Kudus

    Ghana have scored in their last seven World Cup games and could equal Nigeria's record of eight for an African nation at the tournament, set between 1994 and 1998.

    If they are to win, Kudus will likely play a key role once again. He is the only player to ever score twice in a World Cup match for the Black Stars, and another goal in the tournament would see him match Gyan's record haul of three goals in a single edition of the World Cup for Ghana.

    Uruguay – Federico Valverde

    Arguably one of the form midfielders in world football over the past year, Valverde was limited to having just one shot and making one key pass against Portugal.

    But the Real Madrid star has the ability to take the game away from Ghana if, along with Rodrigo Bentancur, he can win the midfield battle.

    Bentancur won possession 19 times against Portugal, the most by a player in a 90-minute World Cup match since Brazil's Mauro Silva in 1994 against the United States (also 19).

    PREDICTION

    Despite Uruguay's disappointing start in Qatar, Opta's prediction model still makes them favourites for this one, ranking their chances of victory at 54.8 per cent.

    Uruguay have never lost a World Cup match against an African nation, and Opta say Ghana only have a 21.3 per cent likelihood of taking three points. 

    The draw is given a 23.9 per cent chance, and that result would suit Ghana as long as Korea do not beat Portugal by a two-goal margin.

  • Messi: Maradona would be 'super happy' I broke his record Messi: Maradona would be 'super happy' I broke his record

    Lionel Messi says Diego Maradona would be "super happy" after he overtook the late Argentina great as his country's most capped player at a World Cup.

    Paris Saint-Germain superstar Messi played a full part in Wednesday's 2-0 win over Poland that secured Argentina top spot in Group C and a last-16 tie with Australia.

    Messi, who had a penalty saved by Wojciech Szczesny with the game level, was making his 22nd appearance in the competition – one more than his former coach Maradona.

    "I only learned about this record recently," Messi said when told about his latest achievement. "It's a pleasure to be able to continue achieving these kinds of records.

    "I think Diego would be super happy for me because he's always showed me a lot of affection. He was always happy when things went well for me."

    Messi could yet take another record from Maradona, as the 63 chances he has created at World Cups in recorded history is second only to his compatriot, who created 67.

    The 35-year-old's blank against Poland came on the back of netting in the shock 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia and 2-0 win over Mexico in Argentina's opening two games in Qatar.

    The seven shots he amassed against Poland is his highest tally without scoring in a match for Argentina since a 1-1 draw with Iceland at the 2018 World Cup (11).

     

    Second-half goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez ensured Argentina secured the win they needed, though, and they are now strong favourites to overcome Australia.

    "After the first goal, everything went our way," said Messi, who was part of the Argentina squad that finished runners-up to Germany at the 2014 World Cup.

    "We started doing again what we had been trying to do since the start of the World Cup, but which we hadn't been able to achieve for various reasons.

    "Having been able to do it today, it gives us confidence for the future."

    Messi will be looking to score in the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time on Saturday, with all eight of his previous goals coming in the group stage.

    He has had 23 efforts without finding the net beyond the first round, though he did assist in the last 16 in each of the 2010, 2014 and 2018 editions.

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