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FOOTBALL

Swedes draw Dutch and Finns in Euro 2012 qualifiers

Sweden face Holland, Hungary and neighbours Finland in a Euro 2012 qualification group that gives Erik Hamrén's side a chance to settle old scores.

Holland, who won the European Championships in 1988, knocked Sweden out of the 2004 World Cup at the quarter final stage and will be hoping for a similar outcome when the teams do battle for a place in the tournament to be held in the Ukraine and Poland.

Sweden will also meet a Finnish side keen to get one up on their illustrious neighbours, a Hungarian team hungry to avenge recent defeats, as well as Moldova and minnows San Marino in qualifying Group E.

Fabio Capello’s England will face old rivals Wales in their Euro 2012 qualification campaign after the draw was made in Warsaw on Sunday.

England have drawn John Toshack’s Wales side in Group G as well as Montenegro, Bulgaria and Switzerland for a place at Euro 2012 with the qualifiers set to begin this September and finish in November 2011.

“Wales is a really good team, very young and a derby is never a normal game,” said Capello whose side are ranked 9th in the world according to FIFA with Toshack’s Wales team listed as 77th.

The Welsh failed to qualify for this summer’s World Cup in South Africa, but the Italian will not be taking the Welsh lightly with plenty of sporting rivallry between the two British nations.

Switzerland, under ex-Bayern Munich coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, are ranked 18th by FIFA while Bulgaria could also present the Three Lions with some problems.

“I think every game will be really tough,” added Capello.

“(We will face) really good teams.

“It’ll be really interesting and impossible for us to relax in any game.

“We’ll have to stay focused.”

Euro 2008 winners Spain, who beat Germany 1-0 to claim the Henri Delauney trophy in Vienna on June 29, 2008, face arguably their biggest test against the Czech Republic as well as Scotland, Lithuania and Liechtenstein in Group I.

Germany coach Joachim Löw is confident of making the finals after his side drew Belgium as well as neighbours Austria, plus Euro 2008 semi-finalists Turkey, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan in Group A.

“We are favourites in this group along with Turkey and I think we will qualify for Euro 2012,” said Löw

Current World Cup holders Italy, who had a poor Euro 2008 campaign by their own standards, have drawn World Cup qualifiers Serbia, as well as Slovenia, Estonia, the Faroe Islands and Northern Ireland in Group C.

“Italy’s group is very even with Serbia and Slovenia, two teams who will compete at the World Cup,” said Italy coach Marcello Lippi.

“We have the advantage of being in a six team group. Of the other groups, England’s is the most the difficult.”

World Cup runners-up France, who had drawn the Republic of Ireland in Saturday’s practice draw, are up against Romania, Belarus, Albania, Luxembourg and Bosnia-Herzegovina in Group D.

French football federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes considered the group a tricky one for France.

“There’s everything to play for,” he said.

“We have to be wary of this very balanced group. We’ll be playing old foes Romania. It’s very mixed since we haven’t beaten them in a long time,” said Escalettes.

“Belarus have made huge progress, Bosnia are always difficult. Luxembourg beat Switzerland, who have qualified for the World Cup. The only thing we’re happy about is that we won’t have to travel far or deal with time zones.”

The Republic of Ireland, who missed out on a place at this summer’s World Cup after losing to France in a qualifier in Paris last November despite a clear handball from Thierry Henry, have drawn Russia.

The Irish and Russians are joined in Group B by Armenia, Andorra, FYR Macedonia and Slovakia.

Euro 2008 quarter-finalists Croatia under coach Slaven Bilic will have Euro 2004 winners Greece to overcome in Group F, where they have also drawn Malta, Georgia, Latvia and Israel.

Denmark, who were crowned champions of Europe in 1992, face Portugal in Group H along with Iceland, Cyprus and Norway.

The Euro 2012 finals will take place from June 8 to July 1 2012 in eight host cities – four in each of the two countries – with the final set to be held in Kiev.

The winners of the nine groups and the best runner-up qualify directly for the final tournament.

The eight remaining runners-up will have to battle it out in play-off matches to decide which teams grab the remaining four tickets.

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FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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