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FOOTBALL

Löw tries to keep momentum for Kazakhstan as Özil nurses ankle

German soccer coach Joachim Löw insists the World Cup semi-finalists are still a long way from Euro 2012 qualification despite three wins from three as they prepare to face minnows Kazakhstan on Tuesday.

Löw tries to keep momentum for Kazakhstan as Özil nurses ankle
Cardboard cut-outs of Löw and Özil. Photo: DPA

Löw’s young guns beat main Group A rivals Turkey 3-0 in Berlin on Friday to top the group, having scored 10 goals and conceded just one, and now travel to face Kazakhstan who have three defeats.

After finishing third at the World Cup, the Germany team has continued its eye-catching form from South Africa into their Euro 2012 campaign, but Löw says the challenge is now to pick up a result in Astana.

“We have started well, but there is still a long way to go,” the 50-year-old told German daily Bild.

“We solved the problem of how to beat Turkey and deserved to win, but we must continue that momentum.”

Normally a cool and collected figure on the sidelines during Germany games, Löw showed a rare display of anger on Friday night when Cologne striker Lukas Podolski fired wide of the goal with Germany protecting a slender 1-0 lead.

“It was a critical stage in the game,” explained Löw.

“We were 1-0 up, but the Turks were pushing for an equalisier and the goal would have calmed the game for us; that is why I got so annoyed.”

Talented midfielder Mesut Özil is Germany’s main injury doubt for the trip to Kazakhstan and will have a fitness test on Monday to see if he can play.

The Real Madrid star scored the second goal against Turkey, but was replaced in the 90th minute as he struggled after injuring his left ankle in a clash with Turkey’s Servet Cetin.

Özil did not train on Sunday, but both the player and coach are optimistic he will play.

“If the ankle continues to improve, he should be able to train with the team on Sunday,” said Löw.

The 21-year-old is eager to face Kazakhstan, ranked 119th in the world.

“I still have pain in the ankle, but I trust the excellent treatment from our national team doctors and physiotherapists,” he said.

“I hope that I will be fit and I want to play.”

If he fails to make it, Werder Bremen’s Marko Marin or Bayern Munich’s Toni Kroos will take his place in the middle of Germany’s attacking midfield.

Born-and-bred in Germany to Turkish parents, Özil was booed every time he touched the ball on Friday at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium and Löw praised the youngster for showing a cool head.

“It was certainly not an easy situation for him,” admitted Löw.

“He’s really strong nerves. He has Turkish parents and has roots in Germany and Turkey.

“He was absolutely delighted with both the goal and his victory in the changing room afterwards.

“I had no doubts about playing him, I had a long talk with him before the game and felt that his situation would not be a factor.”

Germany will fly 4,000 kilometres to Kazakhstan’s Astana and Löw admitted the long fight poses a few problems.

“Waiting for us is an arduous journey, a few hours in the air and a four hour time difference,” he said.

“That won’t make it easy and I am convinced that my team will be up against the same fighting spirit the Turks showed in Kazakhstan.”

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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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