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FOOTBALL

Swedish coach set on attack at the Euros

Erik Hamrén has received many plaudits since taking over as coach of Sweden, not least for his preference for a more attacking style than his predecessor Lars Lagerbäck.

Swedish coach set on attack at the Euros

Sweden failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, leading to Lagerbäck’s

resignation.

At the time, football fans and media in Sweden were despondent: not only were they not going to a major tournament — a rarity over the last 20 years — but they were hardly being entertained on the field either.

Lagerbäck’s defensive approach was unpopular and as it didn’t work, Swedes were praying for something else.

Worse followed when star player Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced his international retirement, robbing the Scandinavians of their brighest star.

Hamrén’s appointment ushered in a mini-revolution.

The 54-year-old began by convincing Ibrahimovic to end his international exile before it even began, promising the popular AC Milan striker greater support in attack.

No longer would “Ibra” be an isolated and frustrated lone figure up front, starved of the ball and an opportunity to show his skills, fuelling critics who insist the 30-year-old cannot cut it at the very top.

Out, also, went defensive-minded midfielders and in came energetic players with a desire to push forward.

Hamrén was bold and outspoken, causing a stir by insisting that his team would attack and try to dominate possession against the Netherlands in qualifying for Euro 2012.

It didn’t go to plan — Sweden lost 4-1 in Amsterdam — but the stage was set: this was a new Sweden and they were going to attack.

That policy served them well as they won all but one of their remaining matches, even beating the Netherlands at home in their final group game to qualify directly for the finals as the best-placed runners-up.

Hamrén may be a virtual unknown outside Scandinavia but he has enjoyed a certain amount of success.

He has won the Norwegian title twice with Rosenborg, the Danish title with Aalborg BK and three Swedish Cups, twice with Stockholm’s AIK and once with Gothenburg’s Örgryte IS.

Three titles and three cups across three different countries is a good record by anyone’s standards and he has also been named manager of the year in both Denmark and Norway.

But while he’s become known for his positive approach on the field, Hamrén is still pragmatic, recognising that with France, England and co-hosts Ukraine in their group, it would be futile to think they’re going to steam-roller their opponents.

“We have to be realistic and accept that we’re now playing the very best teams in Europe, which makes it tougher for a small country like Sweden,” he recently told the Swedish press.

“We’ll try to win and we’ll try to do it with as positive and attack-minded play as possible. But it will depend on how strong our opponents are.”

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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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