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FOOTBALL

Polish and German fans face off in Klagenfurt

The sleepy Austrian town of Klagenfurt was deafened by football chants and blaring music on Sunday as German and Polish fans in full supporter attire invaded the city centre ahead of their countries' first Euro 2008 match.

Polish and German fans face off in Klagenfurt
Photo: DPA

Poles, many of whom had traveled down by train or plane, outnumbered their rivals in the early afternoon and were by far the most vocal, chanting “Polska! Polska!” non-stop and “Deutschland, Deutschland, Auf Wiedersehen” at any passing German fan. But the atmosphere was still playful despite feared violence between the two camps.

“Germany is always an enemy of Poland, in our heart and in our soul, for historical reasons,” said Andrzej, 39, as he enjoyed some food after stepping off the night train from Warsaw.

“Tonight will be treated like a war,” he added, his smile however belying his words.

Some fighting broke out briefly but confrontations on Sunday afternoon were otherwise limited to chanting matches from one beer stand to the next and energetic flag waving.

A black, red and gold open-top double decker bus blared German World Cup songs from loudspeakers to drown out Polish chants, only to find its path blocked by Poles laying down in front of it while friends took pictures.

In the public viewing zone, German and Poles improvised a table football game.

“The atmosphere is fantastic,” said Maria Helbing, 20, from Thuringia, in central Germany, as she watched two groups of fans trying to outdo each other vocally. “We Germans are bad singers. The Poles are currently better, we have to improve,” she said.

Police were increasingly visible as the day went on however, following the parading fans and filming particularly loud groups. Some 400 German police officers, on hand to help their Austrian counterparts, were in charge of the city centre around the “fan mile” and public viewing zone, while some 25 Polish officers provided a familiar presence to their countrymen.

In total, some 25,000 German fans and 20,000 Poles were expected in Klagenfurt on Sunday, prompting fears of violence between these traditional rivals.

Saturday evening, some fighting resulted in 16 arrests. But police quickly intervened and brought the situation was brought under control before it could escalate, said Klagenfurt police spokesman Gottlieb Tuerk.

Maciej Bruszewski, who drove down from Nidzica in northern Poland with three friends, downplayed fears however.

“We’re very peaceful: two years ago during the World Cup in Germany, there was also a game between Germany and Poland and nothing happened,” he said. “And nothing will happen tonight. If we win, we’ll be drinking until morning. If we lose, we’re leaving right after the match.”

German and Austrian police officers could be seen posing or chatting with fans, while supporters from the opposing camps took pictures of each other. Flags and team shirts were the accessory of choice, but a group of Scotsmen in kilts – “we hoped Scotland would qualify so we booked early” – and Germans in lederhosen could also be seen in the sea of red, white, black and gold.

A group of 12 young men from Baden Wuerttemberg downed beers, all dressed in full German kit, from shirt to socks. “After the World Cup and the great atmosphere there, we decided we must come to Austria and Switzerland to experience this great feeling again,” said Armin Thieringer, describing the mood as “perfect, pure emotion.”

As part of the German football association fan club, he and his friends were lucky to have scored tickets to each of their country’s group stage matches. Others still walked the streets with pieces of cardboard saying “looking for tickets” in various languages.

Daniel, 23, travelled to Klagenfurt from Bielefeld, in western Germany, and was confident he would see Sunday’s game. “You just need to invest a little money but there are still people who have extra tickets,” he said, standing on a street corner with a sign reading “need a ticket.”

Even without a ticket, there is fun to be had, added Matthias Stein, from the German “fan embassy” group. “It’s still worth making the trip even if you have no tickets, just to experience the atmosphere, to be part of the event,” he said.

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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