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FOOTBALL

Ibrahimovic sent off as Milan falter

Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sent off on as Serie A leaders AC Milan dropped two valuable points in a 1-1 draw at home bottom of the table Bari on Sunday.

Ibrahimovic sent off as Milan falter

Antonio Cassano scored a late equaliser for the hosts when they were already down to 10 men to cancel out Gergely Rudolf’s first-half opener.

It meant Milan failed to capitalise on second-placed Inter Milan’s 1-1 draw at Brescia on Friday night, meaning they stay five points clear at the top.

For Bari, who remain 12 points from safety, it was a welcome boost in an otherwise dire season.

But they will be kicking themselves for failing to hold onto their lead with a numerical advantage.

Milan now face the prospect of losing Ibrahimovic for the top of the table derby with Inter in three weeks, depending on the length of his ban.

“Unfortunately he had this half-foul reaction,” said his coach Massimiliano Allegri, who suggested it may be Ibrahimovic’s recent dry spell in front of goal that got to him.

“He has to stay calm, these periods can happen, he shouldn’t get annoyed because he hasn’t scored for a month, he’s giving a lot.”

It was a second disappointment in a week for Milan after crashed out of the Champions League with a 0-0 draw at Tottenham.

“We knew this game wasn’t won before kick-off but we made things difficult by going behind in a terrible first half,” added Allegri.

“We’re disappointed and bitter, this week we’ve twice played well but not got what we deserved.”

In a lively opening Milan looked full of verve as Ignazio Abate burst down the right and crossed for Robinho at the near post but his seventh-minute header was well off target.

Kamil Glik then threw himself in front of a Robinho shot after determined work from Ibrahimovic down the right before Gennaro Gattuso dragged an effort wide.

It wasn’t all one-way traffic as Simone Bentivoglio had a shot deflected just wide while a Sergio Almiron header from the resulting corner was too weak and easy for goalkeeper Christian Abbiati.

Ibrahimovic stung Bari shot-stopper Francois Gillet’s hands with a fierce 20-yard free-kick on 27 minutes.

But the basement sitters stunned their illustrious hosts six minutes before the break as Almiron took a quick free-kick, playing the ball past Milan’s defensive wall for Rudolf to run onto and shoot across Abbiati.

Milan came out for the second period with extra determination and Robinho soon had the ball in the net only for it to be chalked off as he’d strayed beyond the last defender.

Gillet then got down well to keep out a low shot from the Brazilian.

Full-back Luca Antonini wasted a glorious opportunity when teed up by busy substitute Urby Emanuelson, missing the ball completely with the goal gaping.

Ibrahimovic had the ball in the net on the hour mark but that too was disallowed as he controlled it with his arm.

He also dragged a shot wide as Milan upped the pressure but the big Swede then lost his head and was sent off for petulantly slapping Marco Rossi in the ribs.

Bari wasted two gilt-edge opportunities to close out the game through Almiron and Erik Huseklepp.

And they were made to pay as their fragile defence crumbled when Anontini got to the byline and pulled the ball back into the area for Cassano to volley home eight minutes from time.

Abbiati had to plunge to his right to keep out a Bentivoglio shot while Gillet dived to his left to deny a long-range Thiago Silva rocket.

Udinese moved into the top four and a Champions League qualifying place for the first time this season as Serie A top scorer Antonio Di Natale scored a brace in the 4-0 thrashing of Cagliari.

Lazio dropped to fifth as Francesco Totti also scored a brace to give Roma derby honours and close the giallorossi to four points off the top four.

It was a fifth straight derby victory for Roma while Lazio finished with nine men after late dismissals for Stefan Radu and Francesco Matuzalem.

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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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