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FOOTBALL

Werder hammer lacklustre Inter but exit Champions League

Werder Bremen enjoyed a rare - but alas meaningless - 3-0 win over Champions League holders Inter Milan on Tuesday as the Italians progressed while Bremen bowed out of Europe.

Werder hammer lacklustre Inter but exit Champions League
Photo: DPA

With Tottenham Hotspur drawing 3-3 at FC Twente to win Group A, Inter go through as runners-up, but Bremen remain bolted to the foot of the table as they picked up only their first win of the competition in sub-zero weather.

Not even victory here could lift them to third and a Europa League place for 2011, but a shot count of 20-6 in Bremen’s favour told its own story and may once again reignite the debate over the future of Inter coach Rafael Benitez.

“We can be very pleased,” said Bremen director of sport Klaus Allofs. “In the second half, the team went up a gear. Regardless of how tough the group was, it is annoying that we are no longer in the tournament.”

Goals either side of half-time by Austrian defender Sebastian Proedl and compatriot Marko Arnautovic sealed the win against Benitez’s lacklustre Italians before sub Claudio Pizarro added the third near the end.

“It was hard for us to react after the first goal, we had a few young players out there and they found it tough going,” said Benitez. “The first goal hurt us and we didn’t have many chances to get back in the game after that.”

With Inter jetting off soon to the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi later this month, Benitez said his priority is to get some of his injured squad back as quick as possible.

With the defending champions already through to the knock-out stages and Bremen playing only for pride, chances were few and far early on for either side on a bitterly cold night.

The brightest chance of the first half for Bremen came after 30 minutes when midfielder Aaron Hunt fired in a pass which striker Hugo Almeida volleyed, but Inter goalkeeper Paolo Orlandoni palmed the ball over the bar.

But Bremen poured on the pressure and camped in the Milan half until the opening goal came.

Having earned seven corners without reply, Bremen made the seventh count when centre-back Proedl rose highest and headed home on 39 minutes. Bremen made sure of the victory when striker Arnautovic latched onto a superb pass from Almeida and volleyed home his shot on 49 minutes which gave Orldoni no chance.

By this stage, the visitors were playing most of the football in their own half.

Inter won their first and only corner after 65 minutes and it nearly paid off as Argentinian midfielder Esteban Cambiasso’s shot hit the post, but deflected back into play.

Bremen kept their foot on the gas until the final whistle and both Hunt and Arnautovic wasted chances. Both ex-Manchester United defender Mikael Silvestre and former Chelsea striker Pizarro came on late in the game after recovering from back and leg

injuries respectively.

It was Pizarro who netted the final goal in the 88th minute to end his team’s European sojourn in style.

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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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