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FOOTBALL

Germany ready for Aussie Socceroos in first World Cup match

Germany opens its World Cup campaign against Australia on Sunday with the Antipodeans eager to show they will not be a punching bag for weightier European opposition.

Germany ready for Aussie Socceroos in first World Cup match
Photo: DPA

The Germans are three-time winners of world football’s showpiece tournament, but Joachim Löw’s side face a bumpy ride against Australia, and also Ghana and Serbia, in a challenging Group D.

Germany dominated their qualifying group on the road to South Africa, humbling Russia home and away, but each of their group rivals also finished top of their respective qualifying groups.

“Of course there is some kind of pressure as we go into this game as favourites,” acknowledged German winger Lukas Podolski.

“But we will go into our three group games with confidence and we really, really want to win the opening game.

“We know that Australia will be defence-minded and we will just have to try and find the gaps. We will just have to use our strikers and find a way through.”

There has been much debate over whether Miroslav Klose, the top scorer at the last World Cup, or Stuttgart’s Brazilian-born Cacau will start as Germany’s lone striker.

Germany will already be without captain Michael Ballack, who will miss the entire World Cup through injury and who has just been shown the door by English champions Chelsea.

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Australia, however, received a boost with the news that key man Tim Cahill and Blackburn Rovers midfielder Brett Emerton, who has not played in any of his team’s three warm-up games because of a calf injury, were both fit to play the Germans.

Australia, coached by Dutchman Pim Verbeek, conceded just four goals in 14 matches in qualifying, and Everton’s attacking midfielder Cahill said the ‘Socceroos’ were happy to have been labelled “boring” by Löw.

“Let them throw stones, we’ll just cop it on the chin,” said Cahill, who missed Wednesday’s training after injuring his neck in last weekend’s 3-1 warm-up loss to the United States but has since started full training.

“There is a lot of talk about the Germans talking us down and how well they are going to do and for us that is a positive.

“We are going into the game as underdogs and hopefully try to make our imprint on the game as soon as possible.”

Australia will be looking to build on their impressive performance from the 2006 World Cup in Germany when they finished second in their group behind Brazil and ahead of Croatia and Japan.

It took a penalty deep into injury-time for Italy to beat then coach Guus Hiddink’s side in the last 16 on their way to winning the final.

As for Germany, they have been largely untested since losing to Spain in the final of Euro 2008, but have a balance of promising talent and seasoned veterans, even without Ballack.

Germany, now captained by defender Philipp Lahm, also have a knack of coping well with the pressure of the knock-out stages and have won all four penalty shoot-outs they faced at previous World Cups.

“As far as I’m concerned, this German team is the best I’ve played in,” said Lahm.

And Werder Bremen centre-back Per Mertesacker said all German thoughts were fixed on a victory.

“I don’t want to be negative about it, but it would be a very bad start for us to lose the opening game to Australia,” he said.

“We need to get as many points as possible, as soon as possible under our belts.”

Germany’s wingers have promised to “tear apart” the Australian defence which enjoyed a sterling reputation in qualifying.

In Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, the Socceroos have one of the world’s top shot stoppers, but even he would concede that he will probably have his work cut out against the likes of Mirolsav Klose, top scorer in the last World Cup.

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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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