The Centralian Advocate Tue 29 Mar 2022
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Tuesday March 29 2022 SPORT 25 V1 - NTNE01Z01MA PORTUGAL has been well and truly warned not to take the threat of North Macedonia lightly as it faces Italys conquerors in a decisive World Cup qualifying play-off on Tuesday. The Balkan nation stunned Italy in their play-off semifinal in Palermo on Thursday, winning 1-0 thanks to an Aleksandar Trajkovski goal in stoppage time, meaning the reigning European champions failed to qualify for a second consecutive World Cup. Cristiano Ronaldos Portugal side, who preceded Italy as European champions in 2016, might have been bracing themselves for the prospect of a decisive showdown with the Azzurri but instead North Macedonia will be the visitors to the Estadio do Dragao in Porto, with the winners going to Qatar. Portugal survived a scare to beat Turkey 3-1 in their semifinal, almost throwing away a two-goal lead as Burak Yilmaz missed a late penalty for the visitors before Matheus Nunes secured the hosts victory. Fernando Santoss team had already squandered first place in their qualifying group by conceding in the last minute to lose 2-1 at home to Serbia in November. For Portugal, failing to qualify for the World Cup would be little short of a scandal given the quality in their ranks -- Atletico Madrids Joao Felix was only on the bench against Turkey, for example. For Ronaldo, the all-time leading international goalscorer at the age of 37, this will surely be his last World Cup if Portugal do get there. They have veteran defender Pepe available again after a bout of Covid-19, while Joao Cancelo is also set to return. Portugal, who are set to be among the top seeds if they qualify, have not missed a World Cup since 1998, while Euro 2020 was the first major tournament appearance of any sort for North Macedonia. Portugal wary of Blakan underdog Verstappen relief after a tricky one WORLD champion Max Verstappen admitted he was relieved to secure his first win of the season after battling to a thrilling victory ahead of old rival Charles Leclerc in Sundays Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. The 24-year-old Dutchman said it had been a difficult, but good, race and it showed that this seasons title battle will be super-close between the two of us after he won by just half a second ahead of the Ferrari. It was a tricky one, said the Red Bull driver. We were battling hard at the front and we just had to play the long game. They were really quick through the corners, but we were quick on the straight. The tyres were wearing out quite quick around here so you could see, at the end, I think we just had a little more pace and I just tried to get by. Verstappen added that he had to learn to be patient to make the most of his cars new era performance. It wasnt easy, they were playing smart tricks in the last corner, but eventually I managed to get ahead, he said. With the yellow flags on the last lap, just knowing how much you should lift and what is allowed or not, it was tough. But Im really happy that weve finally kickstarted the season it was like four qualifying laps at the end. I had to wait. I wanted to go past him, but I wanted to win and not take too many risks so I had to work it out and take my chance. Leclerc congratulated his rival on his victory on their slowdown laps, but, after two races, remains the embryonic championships early season leader by 12 points. We had two very different configurations with the Red Bulls. We were quite quick in the corners, but slow on straights., he said. It was extremely difficult for me to cover Max in the straight. He did a great job It was a fun race! He added that there was respect between the two early-season championship contenders. Its always been there and especially when you finish a race like this on a street track. Weve been pushing like Ive rarely pushed before taking risks Of course, theres respect! AFP Max Verstappen of the Netherlands in the Oracle Red Bull Racing No.1 car makes a pit stop and (below) celebrating his win. Picture: Getty Images JAPAN-BASED Simon Cron will return to Australia to become coach of Western Force at the end of the current season, the Super Rugby club announced Monday. Cron is currently coach at Toyota Verblitz after being recruited and mentored by former All Blacks World Cupwinning coach Steve Hansen, the clubs director of rugby. He will replace Tim Sampson whose contract with the Perth team expires at the end of the season. Simon is one of world rugbys most talented young coaches whose philosophy is to make better rugby players, both on and off the field, said Western Force owner Andrew Forrest, a billionaire mining magnate. It is his dedication to val ues, player wellbeing and growth, as well as his respected coaching ability, that we are really looking forward to at the Force. Cron, who was previously head coach of Australias under-20 team and assistant coach at the NSW Waratahs, explained why he was attract ed to the Perth club. Andrew Forrest took time out of his extremely busy schedule to talk with me around his familys love of the Western Force and how it is a key part of the Western Australian sporting community, Cron said. I see the Western Force as a club which has fought through adversity and come out the other side because of a genuine love of rugby within the organisation and its amazing supporters, the Sea of Blue. The Force have had mixed results so far this season, winning twice but losing four, including a narrow 39-38 home defeat to the table-topping ACT Brumbies at the weekend. AFP Force appoints Japan-based Cron Simon Cron. *Valid between 23/03/22 - 05/04/22 (while stocks last) when you scan the barcode on the coupon (not the barcode on the front or back page). Barcode must be original from hardcopy newspaper. A limit of one magazine per coupon applies. Coupons that have been defaced, damaged or altered, or have passed the expiry date, are not valid for the offer. Redeemable at only Coles supermarkets. Excludes Coles Express and Coles online. Get 50% off a delicious, Vogue, escape, Gourmet Traveller, Cooking with The Weekly or thats life Bumper Puzzle magazine* Scan this coupon to redeem your discount. Excludes Coles Express and Coles online. Redeemable from 23 March - 5 April, 2022