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FOOTBALL

Sweden downs Colombia to win World Cup opener

A second-half goal from Jessica Landström got Sweden's women's World Cup campaign off the mark here on Tuesday with a 1-0 win over newcomers Colombia in their opening Group C tie.

Sweden downs Colombia to win World Cup opener

The 57th-minute goal came after a string of near misses from the bungling Swedish frontline but it was enough to secure all three points in their first meeting against the South Americans.

It was a worthy debut on the world stage for the young Colombians, who took to the pitch after the news that veteran goalkeeper Yineth Varon had been kicked out of the tournament for failing a doping test.

The 29-year-old tested positive following an out-of-competition test in Leverkusen last Saturday and is now suspended from all football pending an inquiry, but has the right to ask for her ‘B’ sample to be analysed.

However, the 31st-ranked Colombians proved on the pitch that they were more than a match for the fifth-ranked Swedes.

Despite dominating play early, Sweden made work easy for Colombian goalie Sandra Sepulveda.

Striker Lotta Schelin missed an early chance to open the scoring when alone in front of goal, her weak effort cleared on the goal-line by Colombian skipper Natalia Gaitan.

Minutes later it was the turn of captain Caroline Seger to aim a timid kick at goal with Sepulveda, 23, proving up to the task.

The Swedes missed a golden opportunity again on 12 minutes when Schelin set up Landström, only for the Frankfurt-based striker to send her effort over the bar at close range.

The Colombians were hit when Gaitan was stretchered off briefly after being barged by Landström, with Seger then booked for a foul on Daniela Montoya. Yoreli Rincon, 17, sent the resulting Colombian free-kick wide.

Back after the break it was more of the same from Sweden as a run by Schelin past Sepulveda towards an empty goal saw the 27-year-old Lyon player fire wide.

A further dreadful effort from Landström after 57 minutes had Swedish coach Thomas Dennerby shaking his head in disbelief.

But seconds later the disappointment turned to joy as Landström picked up a Schelin cross and finally found the target.

Midfielder Carmen Rodallega missed chances to level after 66 minutes and in the dying minutes of the game, but it was the Swedes who missed most of their chances to pull ahead through their own efforts and the solid Sepulveda.

Sweden have reached the quarter-finals at four of the last five World Cups, missing out only at China 2007, when they were eliminated in the group phase.

The 1984 European champions next play North Korea on July 2 in Augsburg and the United States on July 6 in Wolfsburg.

The South Americans next clash is with world number ones the United States on July 2 in Sinsheim, with their final group game against North Korea in Bochum four days later.

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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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