Football: Napoli hope for Serie A success as European hopes fade

Leaders Napoli turn their focus back to Serie A after a bruising Champions League defeat to Manchester City midweek in which defender Faouzi Ghoulam picked up a serious knee injury.

Football: Napoli hope for Serie A success as European hopes fade
Napoli's Marko Rog (L) vies with Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus, November 1st 2017. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP.

Algerian international Ghoulam could be out for months after tearing a cruciate ligament in his right knee during the 4-2 defeat which effectively ends Napoli's elite European challenge.

Maurizio Sarri's side – with 31 points after 11 games – travel to mid-table Chievo on Sunday looking to pull further ahead of rivals Inter Milan, who are just two points adrift and fresh after their absence from European football when they host northern Italian outfit Torino, who are in ninth.

But Ghoulam's absence should cause headaches for Sarri who will be forced to shuffle around Elseid Hysaj and Christian Maggio, or bring in Portuguese Mario Rui, who has played little in the past year.

“Right now [Ghoulam is] one of the best full-backs in Europe,” said Sarri. “He's an important player for us and it'll be difficult for us to replace him.”

Juventus celebrate a goal against Sporting CP, October 31st 2017. Photo: Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP.

Champions Juventus, three points behind Napoli, can make up ground as they host tailenders Benevento, who have lost all their 11 games.

Massimiliano Allegri's side were held 1-1 in Champions League by Sporting Lisbon, but are still in the running for the last-16.

Despite their predicament Benevento forward Pietro Iemmello remains optimistic of staying in the top flight.

“It's a tough moment for everyone, the only way to react is to work and never give up,” said Iemmello.

“Last year's championship taught us that Crotone made a final sprint and saved more than 30 points. This year maybe we can do the same.”

'Not a fluke'

Lazio, joint third with Juventus, host Udinese after maintaining their 100 percent Europa League record with a 1-0 win over Nice to move into the last 32.

“We are the only team in Europe to have won four out of four matches,” said coach Simone Inzaghi with pride as his side target a third Serie A title and first since 2000.

“The hardest is yet to come. We have to recover and regain energy for Udinese on Sunday. We have to continue to prove that we're not a fluke.

“The lads have shown me that with hard work and consistency, we can fight it out with anyone.

“We've been near the top of the table for a couple of years now, so we're not a fluke,” added Inzaghi, whose side are the only team to beat Juventus this season.

Meanwhile, the Roman club announced that their fans can again buy tickets for the south end at the Stadio Olympico where they posted photos of Holocaust victim Anne Frank in a Roma jersey two weeks ago.

Their own north end – in the stadium they share with Roma – had been closed following racist chants during a game against Sassuolo last month.

In fifth, Roma, boosted by their 3-0 Champions League win over Chelsea, travel to Fiorentina two places below them.

Roma have the meanest defence in Serie A with just five goals conceded, and Brazilian defender Juan Jesus said that confidence was riding high after their Chelsea rout.

“It could even have been 5-0. We respect Chelsea, but both the match in London [3-3] and Rome proved that we can beat anyone on our day.”

Seven-time European champions AC Milan, in the midst of a poor run of form in Serie A and sitting eighth, will be looking for some relief at struggling Sassuolo.

Under-fire manager Vincenzo Montella's difficulties will not have been helped by a 0-0 Europa League draw at AEK Athens despite the Italians remaining two points clear of their Greek hosts in Group D.

AC Milan's Andre Silva (L) vies for the ball with AEK's Ognjen Vranjes, November 2nd 2017. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP.


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.