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FOOTBALL

Swede Lagerbäck to lead Iceland

Former Sweden coach Lars Lagerbäck praised the level of footballing talent on display in Iceland on Friday after being named as the new man in charge of their national team.

The Icelandic Football Association confirmed the appointment on their website on Friday, with the 63-year-old due to officially take over on January 1 next year.

Lagerbäck coached his native Sweden for more than a decade and also led Nigeria at last year’s World Cup in South Africa.

He will now lead Iceland in the qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

“I like Iceland a lot… I like the country and I like the people I’ve got to know here,” Lagerbäck told AFP following the announcement of his appointment.

“I have a lot of respect for what (Iceland is) doing as a small country in producing footballers and what (it has) done through the years.”

Lagerbäck acknowledged that he is not very familiar with the current Icelandic team, but insisted that time was on his side.

“I start in January and will get to know all the players and hopefully play three or four friendlies before we play any qualifying games,” he said, pointing out that “that’s better than most national team coaches get.”

The island nation has never before qualified for a major tournament, but Lagerbäck believes they can negotiate a World Cup qualifying group that contains Norway as top seeds, and does not feature a single country that will feature at Euro 2012.

“I really want to win. That’s the most important thing for me,” he said.

“I mean we are not in the toughest group for the World Cup. We don’t have any of the five or six biggest countries in Iceland’s group, but at the same time it’s always difficult to qualify.

“I will do my absolute best and hopefully get a lot of response from the players so we can do it together and get really good results. That’s what I’m hoping for,” he said.

Neither the Icelandic Football Association, nor Lagerbäck himself, were willing to comment on what his salary would be.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, adding only that “I can assure all the Icelandic fans and footballers that I don’t think I’m ruining the Icelandic FA’s economy.”

“It’s a good salary of course, but if I wanted to get money, I would have stayed in Sweden.”

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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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