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FOOTBALL

Basel fightback stuns Manchester United

Manchester United needed a last-gasp goal from Ashley Young to snatch a 3-3 draw with Swiss side FC Basel in a thrilling Champions League battle at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

Young steered in a 90th-minute header from a Nani cross to deny Basel a famous victory after two goals from Alex Frei and one from namesake Fabian Frei had fired the Swiss side into a 3-2 lead at Old Trafford.

United, missing the injured Wayne Rooney, had looked to be cruising to victory early on after two first-half goals in the space of a minute from Danny Welbeck helped them into a 2-0 lead at the break.

But Sir Alex Ferguson’s men were left shellshocked by a superb second-half fightback from the Swiss visitors, who ruthlessly punished slack defending by the English champions to go within a whisker of a famous upset.

“We were careless. They made two or three chances in the first half but a lack of concentration killed us,” Ferguson said afterwards.

“It was a really good performance in the first half but we were left grappling to get a result in the second half. We threw it away.

“Losing three goals at home should be a wake-up call for us.”

The draw leaves Basel on top of Group C with four points from two games, with Portuguese side Benfica second on goal difference. United are two points off the pace after two games.

United were given a let off after only six minutes, Basel captain Marco Streller sending Fabian Frei racing into the box with a deft reverse pass through the legs of defender Phil Jones.

The covering Rio Ferdinand did just enough to unsettle Frei but the striker should have done better with his shot, which flew high and wide.

United’s response was swift, Ashley Young beating his marker before curling a cross to the far post which Antonio Valencia headed wide.

Basel were back under pressure soon afterwards, goalkeeper Yann Sommer forced to save from Young’s shot on 14 minutes after more good work from Valencia.

With United probing Basel menacingly, it appeared only a matter of time before the visitors defence buckled and on 16 minutes United took the lead.

Valencia sent fullback Fabio charging into the box with a perfectly weighted pass that sprang the Basel offside trap, and the young Brazilian squared for Ryan Giggs who laid off for Welbeck to screw a low angled shot in off the post.

The celebrations from that effort had only just subsided when Welbeck grabbed his second a minute later, Giggs threading an exquisite pass through to Welbeck for the United striker to stab home.

Yet the remainder of the half was anything but one-sided, and had Basel possessed a more clinical finisher the visitors might easily have scored, Alex Frei squandering good openings in the 24th and 36th minutes.

United maintained their commanding two-goal lead at half-time but Basel were far from ready to concede defeat after the break and should have pulled a goal back on 51 minutes through Streller.

Once again, United’s defence were caught out by lax marking and Streller found himself with only David de Gea to beat.

But with the goal at his mercy Streller took a fraction too long to get his shot off and the Spanish keeper was able to block with his legs.

That ought to have been warning enough for United, but seven minutes later the English champions were found wanting again.

De Gea saved brilliantly from a Streller header but United were slow to clear and Fabian Frei had time to lash home for 2-1.

Two minutes later and Basel were level. Granit Xhaka sent Fabian Frei racing away down the right flank with a lovely ball, who then floated a wonderful cross into Alex Frei who steered his header beyond de Gea to level it.

On 75 minutes United’s worst fears were realised when Jones tried to pass the ball out of defence and Basel went on the attack once more.

Streller darted forward onto the loose ball and when Valencia bundled him over, referee Paolo Tagliavento immediately pointed to the spot.

The veteran Frei duly stepped up to shoot Basel ahead. That looked to have settled it until relentless late pressure yielded Young’s late strike.

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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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