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FOOTBALL

France and Sweden battle for bronze

Having lost in the women's World Cup semi-finals, Sweden take on France on Saturday in the third-place play-off with both sides insisting they are going for bronze.

France and Sweden battle for bronze
Photo: DPA

Sweden went down 3-1 to Japan in Frankfurt on Wednesday, the same night France were humbled at the hands of two-time winners the USA in Mönchengladbach by an identical margin.

While Japan and the Stars and Stripes march on to Sunday’s final, the French and Swedes will clash having both already secured the two available places at the London 2012 Olympic Games by reaching the semi-finals.

After his side were dominated by Japan, Sweden coach Thomas Dennerby explained why he pulled his squad together on the pitch in Frankfurt to demand they focus on finishing their campaign with another victory.

“This third-place play-off is very important for us, it is the reason why we got back together on the pitch,” said Dennerby.

“I told the players we win and lose together, I said they have to enjoy the next match as we will be fighting for a medal in a few days. We need to recover and not be depressed.”

Although Sweden striker Josefine Oqvist opened the scoring with the opening goal after 10 minutes, Japan hit back as striker Nahomi Kawasumi netted goals either side of half-time while captain Homare Sawa poached a header.

France suffered a similar fate at the hands of the US. After Lauren Cheney put the US ahead in Mönchengladbach, Sonia Bompastor equalized for the French before American forwards Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan put the result beyond doubt.

But the French are also determined to finish their campaign on a high with forward Gaetane Thiney insisting: “I think it’s important to show that we are the third best team in the world.”

France coach Bruno Bini said his side have done exceptionally well to reach the play-off.

“I’m proud of my players. Life’s still beautiful because we have earned the right to fight for third place, which is amazing when you consider nobody was talking about us two months ago.”

France had only previously played in one World Cup in 2003 where they failed to get out of the group stages.

For Sweden, the prize is bronze and the chance to perform their dance routine – inspired by French rapper Moussier Tombola’s hit Logobitombo – one more time for their fans in Germany.

“Thomas said that we could be disappointed, but wanted us to be proud of what we have achieved here and stressed that we have to come together for the game against France,” said Sweden defender Charlotte Rohlin.

“We want to be dancing again at the final whistle, knowing that we are the third-best team in the world. I want to win that game and every single member of the team wants to win. We are going to fight until the end.”

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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