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FOOTBALL

Ballack left out of Euro qualifiers

German national football coach Joachim Löw has left captain Michael Ballack out of the team for the next two European championship qualifiers, raising further questions about his place in the squad.

Ballack left out of Euro qualifiers
Photo: DPA

The German Football Federation (DFB) announced on Friday that Ballack would not play next month’s Euro 2012 qualifiers against Belgium and Azerbaijan.

Ballack, who technically remains Germany’s captain despite having missed the World Cup in South Africa, is still recovering from an ankle injury, though he has played for his new club Bayer Leverkusen.

The decision to leave Ballack out underscores the ongoing tension over who will hold the job of German captain – Ballack or defender Philipp Lahm.

Coach Löw said he told Ballack of his decision by phone.

“It was a good, open conversation,” Löw said. “Michael is on a good track three months after his serious injury and everyone is pleased with the recovery. It is now important that he finds his optimal form in the coming weeks at Leverkusen.”

Lahm replaced Ballack for the recent World Cup after Ballack suffered a serious ankle injury at the hands of German-Ghanain player Kevin-Prince Boateng during the English FA Cup final.

With Ballack absent, Lahm is likely to retain the captaincy in next month’s qualifiers against Belgium and Azerbaijan.

Löw was in Dortmund last Sunday to see Ballack make his first appearance back in the Bundesliga after four years in the Premier League with Chelsea. His team Bayer Leverkusen beat Borussia Dortmund 2-0.

After his injury, Ballack only returned to training at the start of August and has played only a Bundesliga and Europa League match.

Looking ahead to the qualifiers, Löw said: “We want to win our first two games with the same football that we played at the World Cup.”

The hot topic in the German media is the “C-frage” or who will captain Germany through their Euro 2012 campaign – Ballack or Lahm.

Ballack does not always cut a sympathetic figure: he is a dominant character and has clashed with both striker Lukas Podolski and team manager Oliver Bierhoff on the pitch during games for his country.

After former veteran midfielder Torsten Frings was dropped from the Germany squad in October 2008, Ballack accused Löw of not showing his senior players enough respect, but later apologised.

At that time, Ballack was in a powerful position as Germany’s only true world-class player, while Löw was only two years into the job.

Two years on, Löw’s position is far stronger, having guided a young Germany squad to third in South Africa, while Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira is ten years younger than Ballack and is being groomed to replace him.

Lahm turns 27 in November and as well as being an outstanding defender, has a fresh-faced image and prefers to let his football speak for him.

Ballack is back in the Bundesliga after his four-year hiatus with Chelsea and is now under pressure to prove himself after failing to have his contract extended in London and losing his place in the Germany squad.

Germany has a Euro 2012 qualifier against Turkey at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium on October 8 and then away to Kazakhstan on October 12. Should Ballack then be left out of the squad again, eyebrows will be raised.

Germany squad

Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Schalke 04), René Adler (Bayer Leverkusen), Tim Wiese (Werder Bremen)

Defenders: Holger Badstuber (Bayern Munich), Marcell Jansen (Hamburg), Philipp Lahm (Bayer Munich), Per Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), Sascha Riether (Wolfsburg), Heiko Westermann (Hamburg)

Midfielders: Sami Khedira (Real Madrid/ESP), Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich), Marko Marin (Werder Bremen), Mesut Özil (Real Madrid/ESP), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Christian Trasch (Stuttgart)

Forwards: Cacau (Stuttgart), Mario Gomez (Bayern Munich), Stefan Kiessling (Bayer Leverkusen), Miroslav Klose (Bayern Munich), Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich), Lukas Podolski (Cologne)

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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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