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EURO 2012 CHAMPIONSHIPS

FOOTBALL

Sweden’s Euro 2012 chances: the lowdown

As Sweden prepares to go into battle at the European Championships in Poland and the Ukraine, The Local's Joe Lynskey asks some of the country's top football writers what fans can expect from its national side.

Sweden's Euro 2012 chances: the lowdown

With the opening kick-off of the Euro 2012 set for Friday, June 8th, and Sweden’s June 11th opening match against Ukraine fast approaching, the national team faces a tough task in its bid to recapture the success it had in the 1990s.

Erik Hamren’s squad faces a mammoth task just to advance from its group, with co-hosts Ukraine, backed by home advantage, joined by power-houses England and France.

Click here for a list of some of the best places in Stockholm to watch the Euros

Sweden will feel they need to take at least 5 points from these three matches to have any chance of progression.

The outlook from Swedish experts, however, remains remarkably upbeat.

For Erik Niva of Aftonbladet and Anders Lundqvist of Dagens Nyheter (DN), anything less than quarter final qualification would represent failure Hamren’s side.

“When we play well, the sky’s the limit,” explains Niva.

“But when we’re bad, we can be extremely poor, particularly at the back, where often the defensive line can provide little or no protection.”

Niva brings up Sweden’s recent friendly against Iceland, a 3-2 victory which showcased both the good and bad sides of the national team.

“The evidence was there in the Iceland friendly game, where for the opening 20 minutes Sweden looked top quality, but after the goals at times they looked shaky in defence,” says Niva.

“The realistic expectation is to qualify from the group, then after that anything can happen.”

Much of the country’s attention for the summer’s championships will be focused on talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who despite a club career boasting a host of medals and honours, is still yet to really prove his worth on the international stage, even at 31 years of age.

Ibrahimovic has been looking in lethal touch, however, in the warm-up games he has featured in so far, taking Iceland to pieces in the opening 20 minutes in Gothenburg.

A crisply struck volley got him on the score-sheet, while an exquisite piece of skill turned defenders inside out to provide the assist for a second minutes later.

He also scored a ripping penalty against Serbia on Tuesday, sealing a 2-1 victory for the home team in Stockholm.

“Zlatan has never been in this kind of great shape going into a summer tournament, and that could be what finally makes this the summer for him to succeed,” says DN’s Lundqvist.

“Even [former manager] Lars Lagerbäck has said this is the best form we’ve ever seen from him.”

Niva agrees that getting the most from Ibrahimovic will be key to securing Sweden’s success at the Euros.

“We’ve never found the most potent formula for Zlatan, and at 31 we still don’t know where he stands in terms of his ability in the national team,” the Aftonbladet sportswriter explains.

“This summer his chances of performing well are high, but then again, we’ve said that going into every summer tournament since he started playing.”

The AC Milan striker is expected to occupy a “number 10” role in the side, with critics believing that he needs the stability and support provided by Johan Elmander up front to find his best attacking form without leaving the rest of the side exposed.

Galatasaray striker Elmander is currently nursing a foot injury, but is expected to be fully fit by the time Sweden face England on June 15th, a game in which, crucially, the English will be missing their suspended striker Wayne Rooney.

Both pundits also believe that much is to expect from Rasmus Elm, who at 23 is looking like he could play at a higher level than his current side AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch League.

“Elm can play the way people don’t expect,” claims Niva.

“He has the ability to surprise people and be the missing link in the side. He was the man of the match against Iceland and looked like a quality player.”

Whilst question marks remain over Sweden’s defensive capabilities, as an attacking force the side has shown great potential.

With creative players that display attacking intent throughout the side in Martin Olsson, Kim Kallstrom and Sebastian Larsson, Hamren’s players will believe they can pose a threat to the best of Europe’s defences.

Despite a tough group, Sweden will go into the tournament optimistically after an impressive set of results in warm-ups and qualifying, including a win over World Cup runners-up the Netherlands.

And with similarly un-fancied teams such as Greece and Denmark having taken the Euro title in recent years, if Hamren gets it right, Sweden may even dare to dream of a medal placing.

Joe Lynskey

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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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