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FOOTBALL

Germany faces big expectations in Euro 2012 qualifier

Germany faces Belgium on Friday with coach Joachim Löw expecting three points from his team's opening Euro 2012 qualifier as the Germans look to build on their momentum from the World Cup.

Germany faces big expectations in Euro 2012 qualifier
Photo: DPA

Löw’s young squad finished third in South Africa and, having finished as runnners-up at Euro 2008, when they lost in the final to Spain, they are favourites to win Group A in qualification.

Germany are without captain Michael Ballack, who has been dropped for the Brussels game and next Tuesday’s qualifier against Kazakhstan in Cologne, as he works his way back from the ankle injury which kept him out of the World Cup.

Philipp Lahm will captain the side in Ballack’s absence, but the team will be close to full strength at the Roi Baudouin stadium, the only exceptions being injured defenders Arne Friedrich, Jerome Boateng and Dennis Aogo.

Löw says while his side earned plenty of praise for their World Cup performances, it is now time to put the experience gained in South Africa to good use.

“As nice as the praise for our performances at the World Cup was, a new chapter with interesting challenges is beginning,” he said. “Our goal must be to take six points from our first two games.”

Germany is ranked fourth in the world, while Belgium is ranked 48th, behind Burkino Faso and Venezuela. History is against the Belgians.

No fewer than 14 matches have passed since Belgium’s last win against a side representing Germany when they beat the former Federal Republic of Germany 2-0 in a friendly in Brussels in September 1954.

Under new coach Georges Leekens, who took over in May, Löw expects Belgium to give Germany a hard game at home.

Defensive midfielder Timmy Simons will be making his first appearance in a Belgium shirt for a year as Leekens looks to toughen up his side’s midfield.

“He is a young warrior, the type that does everything he can to succeed,” said Leekens of the 74-times capped, 33-year-old Nuremberg midfielder. “I brought him back to bring some balance to the team.”

Germany’s all-star attack boasts names like Real Madrid’s Mesut Özil, Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller and club teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Bayern Munich centre-back Daniel van Buyten will be in the heart of the Belgian defence come Friday and admits his side will have its work cut out.

“We have a very talented young squad and really want to finally make it to a big tournament, to do this we need a good start,” said the defender. “Against Germany, it will be very tough, they are really strong.”

Leekens’s squad is under pressure to pick up points against Germany, but have several talented youngsters in their squad.

Teenage striker Romelu Lukaku, who is 17-year-old, has been chased by many top European clubs and Eden Hazard, 19, from French side Lille is also considered an exceptional talent.

Brugge striker Jelle Vossen is a talented forward while Fulham’s Moussa Dembele and Everton’s Marouane Fellaini bring some Premier League experience to the squad and will be led by Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen.

Belgium finished fourth at the 2008 Olympics, to give the country some hope, but Simons is aware of the challenge ahead.

“They will punish our mistakes hard, so it is important that we concentrate very hard, but I don’t think victory is impossible for us,” he said.

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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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