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Football: Hamsik ensures Napoli end year on top

Napoli's record goal-scorer Marek Hamsik scored again to keep his side top of Serie A with a 1-0 win at Crotone on Friday as they sealed the symbolic title of Winter Champions.

Football: Hamsik ensures Napoli end year on top
Photo: AFP

It was the 117th goal in a Napoli shirt for the Slovakian international who last week overtook Diego Maradona as the club's all-time leading scorer.

Maurizio Sarri's side end 2017 with just one defeat in 19 games, against champions Juventus, who are four points behind ahead of their trip on Saturday to struggling Verona.

“It was important to bring home the three points,” said Hamsik. “But this title (Winter Champions) means nothing. We were already on the right track three years ago, but we realise it means nothing, as we want to be top at the end of the season.”

“Statistics mean nothing,” continued Sarri, whose side are the only team in Europe's top five leagues who are unbeaten away.

“It's a strong run, reaching the Champions League is very important for us, so having 48 points at the midway stage of the season gives us hope,” added the coach.

With Serie A playing through the Christmas holidays for the first time in nearly 30 years, Napoli's players showed signs of fatigue with Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne missing several chances.

The visitors started Friday's game in Calabria with a badge on their sleeves marking Hamsik's 116 goals and they counted on him to pull them through.

Hamsik opened the scoring after 17 minutes with a low finish from inside the box after a pass from Allan with the Brazilian playing a key role.

Crotone's new coach Walter Zenga was furious his side were not awarded a penalty for an apparent Mertens handball on 65 minutes.

Napoli could have pulled further ahead but were wasteful in front of goal, while Crotone goalkeeper Alex Cordaz saved shots from Amadou Diawara and Jose Callejon.

And the Napoli coach praised 26-year-old Allan's role on the night. “I think Allan deserves a Brazil call-up,” said Sarri.

“I also hope they don't call him up, as we need him. It's a real problem with the South American sides, as the journeys and logistics are complicated.”

Crotone stay third from bottom after their 12th loss in 19 games.

Napoli are four points clear of six-time defending champions Juventus. Inter Milan, in third, are at home to fifth-placed Lazio just days after their Italian Cup exit to city rivals AC Milan.

Inter are two points ahead of Roma, who host Sassuolo, with Lazio a further two points back in fifth with the two teams from the capital both having a game in hand.

READ ALSO: Teenager Cutrone scores extra time winner to give Milan dramatic derby triumph

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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