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FOOTBALL

Schalke fight back for draw at Bremen

Champions League semi-finalists Schalke 04 had to come from behind to rescue a 1-1 draw at Werder Bremen on Saturday night when they returned to German league action.

Schalke fight back for draw at Bremen
Photo: DPA

Schalke booked a semi-final clash with Premier League giants Manchester United last Wednesday when they beat holders Inter Milan 2-1 at home to win their quarter-final clash after shocking the Italians 5-2 at the San Siro.

The Royal Blues now face Sir Alex Ferguson’s United side on Tuesday, April 26 at the Veltins Arena in the semi-final first leg, but they had to fight back to share the points in the Bundesliga at mid-table Bremen.

“We could have won. In the second half we had some great chances, but I am very pleased with the way the team played,” said coach Ralf Rangnick. “We showed plenty of energy in our performance after Wednesday’s match against Inter Milan.”

Bremen went ahead when striker Sandro Wagner was fouled in the penalty area and the 23-year-old netted the rebound after his 59th-minute spot-kick was saved.

But the Royal Blues immediately produced the perfect response when veteran Spain striker Raul fired in a cross from the sidelines that Brazil striker Edu blasted home with a bullet header on 63 minutes. The result leaves both teams in mid-table.

Earlier, a late equaliser by VfL Wolfsburg secured a 2-2 draw at home to St Pauli to give the 2009 Bundesliga champions a fighting chance of escaping the relegation zone.

Wolfsburg, coached by Felix Magath, who led them to the title only two years ago, are third from bottom and four points from safety with four games left before the season finishes on May 14.

After fellow relegation candidates St Pauli took a late 2-1 lead, a header from Czech midfielder Jan Polak with a minute left gave Wolves a crucial point.

Wolfsburg sacked ex-England manager Steve McClaren in February with the side sliding towards the relegation zone, allowing Magath to return after he in turn was shown the door by Schalke.

“I am satisfied with the result, but obviously not with the game,” said Magath. “Once again, we have shown that we lack the things you need in a relegation fight. We lacked both the team spirit and the will to win this game.”

The last two in the Bundesliga are relegated automatically, but the side third from bottom faces a play-off against the side third from top in the second division for the right to play in Germany’s top flight next season.

With second-placed Bayer Leverkusen taking on defending champions Bayern Munich, who are fourth, on Sunday, just after leaders Borussia Dortmund play Freiburg, third-placed Hanover 96 were held to a goalless draw by Hamburg.

Hanover are on course to go into the play-off for a Champions League place, but they cannot now catch second-placed Leverkusen, who are 13 points ahead.

Dortmund remain on course for their first league title since 2002 as they enjoy a five-point lead over Leverkusen.

Stuttgart pulled away from the relegation zone with a 3-1 win at Cologne to put four points between themselves and the bottom three.

Hoffenheim moved up to ninth as Brazilian teenager Roberto Firmino scored his first goal for the club with a 78th-minute strike after being set up by ex-Liverpool forward Ryan Babel to earn a 1-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt.

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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