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FOOTBALL

Podolski brace lifts Germany to victory

Germany’s Polish-born striker Lukas Podolski made clear where his allegiance lies after lifting Germany to a 2-0 win over Poland in the country’s first Euro 2008 match on Sunday.

Podolski brace lifts Germany to victory
Photo: DPA

Having turned 23 last Wednesday, Podolski combined with Germany’s other Polish-born forward Miroslav Klose for his first goal on 20 minutes and followed up with an unstoppable volley on 72 minutes.

After Group B rivals Croatia had earlier got off to a winning start with a 1-0 victory over co-hosts Austria in Vienna, the result puts the Germans top of their group.

Podolski admitted he had somewhat mixed feelings after sending his native land packing. “We did the essential in winning our opener, but this victory does not over enthuse me as I am originally from Poland. All my family is over there. I have two hearts – a German one and a Polish one!”

The last time Germany had won a European Championship game was way back in June 30 1996 when they beat the Czech Republic to win Euro 1996 at Wembley.

There had been some controversy last Wednesday when Polish tabloid Super Express printed a mocked up picture of Poland coach Leo Beenhakker holding the severed heads of opposite number Joachim Löw and Germany captain Michael Ballack. Both sides had played down any problem, but 140 Germans were arrested here in the city centre on Sunday.

Hooligans arrested

A first group of about 60 was arrested after they chanted racist slogans, including “all Poles should have to wear yellow stars,” referring to the insignia the Nazis forced Jews to wear before and during World War II. A few of the hooligans managed to run away but the majority were taken into custody.

Shortly after the start of the game, another group of about 40 men this time appeared, chanting similar Nazi slogans such as “German fight back. Don’t buy from Poles,” the Austria Press Agency reported. They too were arrested and taken away in police vans.

But the proper football fans in the stadium were well-behaved and they lent their passionate support during the match.

Ballack said the Germans had been their traditional efficient selves in sealing the points. “I think we played well. It’s always difficult – you never know where you are before the first game of a tournament. I think we deserved victory. From the start we were aggressive,” the Chelsea star told the BBC.

Polish losing streak

The Poles were making their European Championship debut, but are still yet to beat Germany in 16 meetings between the sides since 1933 with the Germans now claiming 12 wins with four draws between the neighbours.

Beenhakker had opted for five in midfield with Euzebiusz Smolarek as the lone striker up front for Poland. Löw had gone for a traditional 4-4-2 formation, keeping midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger – a star of the 2006 World Cup – on the bench until half-time playing Podolski behind the two German strikers.

The move paid off as Podolski gave Germany an extra attacking option supporting front men Miroslav Klose, the top scorer at the last World Cup, who was partnering VfB Stuttgart hot-shot Mario Gomez up front.

After both sides squandered early chances, the trio combined to give Germany the break through they craved on 20 minutes. Gomez flicked the ball over the defence for Klose to draw the goalkeeper before giving his Bayern Munich team-mate Podolski a simple tap in on 20

minutes past Poland’s Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc.

Poland’s best chance of the first half – and ultimately the game – came when midfielder Wojciech Lobodzinski put in a superb pass, but Maciej Zurawski pulled his shot wide. Polish striker Smolarek picked up the first booking on 40 minutes when he tripped Per Mertsacker.

During the half-time break, Beenhakker swapped his captain Maciej Zurawski for Brazilian-born Roger Guerreiro, but he made little impact and Lobodzinski earned Poland’s second yellow card on 64 minutes for tripping Podolski. Germany were dominating by this stage and when the ball fell to Podolski on 72 minutes he drove his shot into the top corner of the net to give his side some breathing space.

German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann produced a string of saves as Poland applied some late pressure, but his defence held. The result means Group B’s two unbeaten sides will meet Thursday when Germany return here to face Croatia.

Ballack said he was looking forward to playing Croatia but cautioned: “I think it’s an open game – both teams are very strong.”

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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