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FOOTBALL

Sweden smothered by dominant Dutch

Two devastating first half mistakes by Sweden paved the way for a crushing 1-4 defeat at the hands of World Cup finalists the Netherlands in Euro 2012 qualifying play on Tuesday.

Sweden smothered by dominant Dutch
Kim Kallstrom, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Ola Toivonen lament a Dutch goal

The victory sees the Dutch maintain their perfect start to the qualifiers with four wins from four matches with the only black spot of the night an ankle injury to winger Dirk Kuyt that saw him taken to hospital.

After only four minutes of play, Swedish defender Andreas Granqvist, starting in place of the suspended Olof Mellberg, turned the ball over the Dutch sniper Wesley Sneijder.

Sneijder in turn fed the ball to to Rafael van der Vaart who then set up Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.for the Netherlands’ first goal.

The Dutch later took advantage of an ill-conceived throw in by left back Behrang Safari, which landed at Sneijder’s feet, making it easy for teammate Ibrahim Afellay to take his feed and split through the Swedish backline for the score.

“Not good at all. It’s a catastrophe,” Sweden’s star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic told TV4 following the match.

Ibrahimovic struggled to find a path to the goal for much of the match, with his first real scoring chance coming on a strike from 20 metres out which ended up in the arms of Maarten Stekelenburg.

“They were much better than us. It feels like they could control the game. Every time we made progress, it feels like we got hit back,” said Ibrahimovic.

Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk said that he was worried the injury to Kuyt was a serious one, but was delighted with the manner of his side’s victory.

“We played really well,” said van Marwijk, who was praised last week for the stance he took over ejecting midfielder Nigel de Jong from the squad for a horror tackle on Hatem Ben Arfa in the English Premier League match between Manchester City and Newcastle.

“We could have scored a few more. But we also offered up a few opportunities to our opponents. But overall, we played football that I like to watch.”

Huntelaar – who has failed to sparkle both at AC Milan and then Real Madrid before alighting on Schalke 04 – later took his tally to eight goals in the four qualifiers when he made it 3-0 following up a beautiful piece of individual skill by Afellay.

Afellay had never scored in his previous 29 appearances for the ‘Oranje’ but he ended that drought in style on Tuesday.

He added to his first half tally and rounded off the scoring in the 59th minute after being found by Huntelaar and finished the match in tears with the emotion of it being too much for him.

The Swedes were shell-shocked but still at least managed a consolation effort by Granqvist in the 69th minute.

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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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