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FOOTBALL

Mainz edge closer as Dortmund stumble

Mainz closed the gap at the top of the Bundesliga on Saturday to 10 points with a tense 4-2 win at wintry St Pauli as leaders Borussia Dortmund were beaten 1-0 at Eintracht Frankfurt.

Mainz edge closer as Dortmund stumble
Photo: DPA

Both Mainz striker André Schürrle and St Pauli midfielder Matthias Lehmann scored two goals, but a deft first-half chip by Mainz’s Hungary striker Adam Szalai kept the guests ahead on a bitterly cold night in Hamburg.

Mainz midfielder Marco Caligiuri settled the matter in the 83rd minute when he took a clever pass from substitute striker Sami Allagui and drilled his shot past the goalkeeper as Mainz went second.

“The way we started is what we had worked towards all week,” said Mainz coach Thomas Tuchel after his side raced into a 2-0 lead after 30 minutes. “If we keep producing performances like that, the luck will come back.”

Dortmund’s lead at the top has been cut to ten points and Leverkusen can bridge the gap further if they can reclaim second by beating Freiburg on Sunday.

Earlier leaders Dortmund were stunned when the league’s top-scorer Theofanis Gekas netted his 14th league goal of the season on 86 minutes with some superb finishing. It was only the second defeat of the season for the league’s top side.

“They deserved to win,” admitted Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp with the Bundesliga set to take its customary winter break on Sunday. “They were more passionate than we were in the one-on-one challenges. After 17 matches, it doesn’t feel so good because we lost, but things are better than they feel right now.”

Dortmund would have claimed the German league record for the best start to the season if they had drawn or won.

Defending champions Bayern Munich are at Stuttgart on Sunday and will be 14 points behind the leaders if they claim a victory.

Fourth-placed Hanover were stunned 3-1 at mid-table Nuremberg, while Champions League last 16-qualifiers Schalke picked up their third-straight league win with a 3-0 win over Cologne as Spain striker Raul hit a hat-trick.

It was his second in the German league since joining Schalke from Real Madrid at the start of the season. The hosts took the lead when midfielder Ivan Rakitic pounced on a mistake in the Cologne defence and squared the ball for the ex-Real forward to head home on 30 minutes.

The Royal Blues made sure of the result which leaves them 10th in the table when Raul completed his hat-trick with strikes on 50 and 87 minutes to take him on to nine league goals this season.

Hoffenheim allowed a 2-0 lead to slip to a 2-2 draw at Wolfsburg as ex-England manager Steve McClaren’s side fought back. The result leaves Wolfsburg 13th in the league and just four points from the relegation zone, while Hoffenheim are eighth.

Werder Bremen slipped further towards the relegation zone when they were beaten 2-1 by Kaiserslautern to suffer their second straight defeat. Both sides had players sent off in a bad-tempered match.

It was Bremen’s eighth reversal of the season in 17 games and they are 14th in the league, four points above third from bottom Cologne.

AFP/bk

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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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