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FOOTBALL

Sweden impress in Hungary win

A brace of goals from Pontus Wernbloom were enough to secure Sweden a comfortable 2-0 win against Hungary in Stockholm on Friday in their Euro 2012 opening qualifier.

Sweden impress in Hungary win

“Wonderful, fantastic feeling to win the first match and win convincingly before this fantastic crowd,” said Swedish coach Erik Hamrén to broadcaster TV6.

Hamrén, who assumed the role as national team coach after Sweden’s failure to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa, elected to deploy the same starting eleven that beat Scotland 3-0 in a recent friendly.

New AC Milan signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic wore the captain’s armband and lead from the front, with the roaming striker at the centre of much of Sweden’s best football in the opening period.

Ibrahimovic created good chances for Bolton forward Johan Elmander, Ola Toivonen and Emir Bajrami who were unable to convert their opportunities and give Sweden a deserved lead in the first half.

The ex-Barcelona man missed a good chance of his own before the teams went in for the break with Sweden left to ponder their profligacy.

But six minutes into the second half the impressive Mikael Lustig turned provider, setting Sebastian Larsson free down right flank. The Birmingham winger whipped in a sublime cross for the onrushing Wernbloom to meet with his head and open the scoring for a rampant yellow and blues.

Wernbloom, a relative newcomer to the national team and favoured over Lyon midfielder Kim Källström as Hamrén seeks to continue process of renewal, doubled Sweden’s lead in the 73rd minute after converting a corner from Larsson at the second attempt.

Källström played 60 minutes of the game alongside Wernbloom in the centre of midfield as ex-Southampton veteran Anders Svensson succumbed to injury.

Johan Elmander also fell victim to a tough aerial challenge, and with the goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson pulling a groin muscle, Sweden were forced to deploy all their substitutes early on.

But with a comfortable 2-0 lead secured, the new regime under Erik Hamrén were able to show composure to see the game out for a worthy three points, leaving them second in group E after Holland’s 0-5 demolition of San Marino.

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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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