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FOOTBALL

Swedes leave it late to beat San Marino

Sweden's men claimed a crucial victory over footballing minnows San Marino on Tuesday night, finally breaking the deadlock in the second half to prompt a flurry of goals and win the Euro 2012 qualifier 5-0.

Swedes leave it late to beat San Marino

The win, a prerequisite to keeping Sweden on course for pipping Hungary to the second spot in Group E, long looked uncertain as a remodelled line up struggled to break down the determined part-timers of San Marino.

After the crushing 1-2 loss to Hungary on Friday, Sweden coach Erik Hamrén rang the changes. Left back Oscar Wendt, given much of the blame for the loss, was dropped and Sunderland’s Sebastien Larsson and midfield stalwart Anders Svensson had to make do with a spot on the bench.

Sweden huffed and puffed in a first half that was characterised by a series of half chances for the blue and yellows. Johan Elmander and Olo Toivonen, deployed in ‘the hole’ behind Milan star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, were guilty of the worst misses of the half.

It wasn’t until San Marino had Davide Simoncini sent off that the Swedes finally moved up the gears, with the match well into its final third.

The impressive Kim Källström broke the deadlock in the 64th minute, quickly followed by Christian Wilhelmsson six minutes later. With the home side’s valiant defence broken the result never looked in doubt after that.

Deputy left back Martin Olsson scored the third and Tobias Hysén, son of the former Liverpool legend Glenn, claimed the fourth with a sweet left foot finish.

Wilhemsson, back in the Swedish line for this week’s qualifiers after a long period in the international wilderness, completed the rout in stoppage time.

Sweden are now in second place in Group E thanks to a superior goal difference from their matches against Hungary, and with a game less played.

Sweden’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign comes to a close with matches away in Finland and at home to The Netherlands in the beginning of October.

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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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