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FOOTBALL

Löw confident of perfect record in Euro qualifiers

With his team almost assured of a place at Euro 2012, Germany coach Joachim Löw is relaxed about his side's qualifier against minnows Azerbaijan on Tuesday despite mounting injury problems.

Löw confident of perfect record in Euro qualifiers
Photo: DPA

Victory in Baku on the Caspian Sea would give Germany a ten-point lead at the top of Group A and would almost certainly mean a place at Euro 2012, to be hosted by Poland and the Ukraine next June.

Germany left it late to beat Austria 2-1 in Vienna on Friday and a win in Baku would put them in an almost unassailable position at the top of the table.

With his team bidding to make it seven wins from seven, Löw flew from Vienna to Baku with a squad missing eight players, including first-choice stars Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose.

With a depleted midfield, Löw has called up Under-21 players Lewis Holtby of Mainz and Sebastian Rudy of Hoffenheim to complete his squad.

Despite having midfield problems, Löw has again ignored ex-captain Michael Ballack, who spent last season trying to hold down a regular place at Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen.

Rudy has cut short a holiday in Italy to make the long trip to Azerbaijan, but Löw brushed off any injury concerns with his side on the verge of qualifying.

“Since we met up, eight players have now dropped out with injury,” he said. “The situation as it is doesn’t concern me, I think we are in a decent position to play this game, even under these circumstances.

“Both players (Holtby and Rudy) have been on our radar for a while and they are midfielders, where we have most of our problems.”

Holtby, 20, is being widely tipped here as a star for the future and despite his father hailing from Liverpool, England, he opted for the white shirt of Germany and made his debut last November in the draw with Sweden.

Rudy is uncapped at senior level and is hoping to play a role in Baku.

Little resistance is expected from Bertie Voigts-coached eastern European minnows as Azerbaijan lost 2-1 in Astana to Kazakhstan on Friday and only escape being bottom of Group A by virtue of goal difference.

Tuesday’s game is Germany’s last of this season and Löw wants three points to finish on a high.

“We must pull out all the stops and lift ourselves again after a long journey,” said Löw. “Then we can go into a well-deserved vacation with 21 points.”

Löw admits his side are feeling the effects of a long season and are facing the last of three end-of-season games having beaten Uruguay in a friendly and now Austria.

“The players have mainly being doing regeneration work since Friday,” he said. “The batteries can’t recharge any more, you can see they aren’t as resilient in training.”

Löw says he does not expect a ‘footballing treat’ in Baku and his side may well have to grind out a win, but after Bayern Munich hot-shot Mario Gomez netted twice in Vienna, the 25-year-old is in impressive form.

AFP/djw

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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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