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EURO 2012

FOOTBALL

Germany to face Italy in semi-final

Germany and defending champions Spain remain the favourites to fight out a repeat of their Euro 2008 final meeting as the present edition heads into the semi-final stage.

Germany to face Italy in semi-final
Photo: DPA

Defeat against Italy would be a rude shock for Germany having swept aside every team they have faced so far, including Portugal, whom they beat 1-0, and won all their qualifiers.

Victory in the final would complete a process begun before the 2006 World Cup under Jürgen Klinsmann and which has been taken on leaps and bounds since then by his former assistant Joachim Löw.

While Löw has shown a fearlessness – some said recklessness – in bringing in a trio of fresh attacking players for the quarter-final with Greece.

It would nonetheless be a relief that his chief playmaker Bastian Schweinsteiger looks set to be given the all-clear for Thursday’s Euro 2012 semi-final against Italy with midfield partner Mesut Özil emphasising how much the Germans “need him”.

The 27-year-old Schweinsteiger has been struggling to recover from an ankle injury and was below-par in Friday’s 4-2 win over Greece. He is considered a key element in the German bid to win Euro 2012.

Germany play Italy in the semi-final in Warsaw on Thursday and the Bayern Munich star is expected to be fit to face the Azzurri.

“He has problems with the ankle, which has been treated intensively in the last few days, we assume he will be fit to play,” said Germany’s goalkeeping coach Andreas Kopke on Monday.

Having torn ankle ligaments in February, Schweinsteiger admitted Sunday the joint had still not fully recovered, but Özil said he is needed against the Azzurri.

“We need Schweinsteiger, He is a class player and one of our leaders,” said Real Madrid star Özil after Schweinsteiger set up both Germany’s goals in their 2-1 win over Holland in their second group match.

“He has been injured, but I think he is on a good track. You could see how important he is for the team in our match against Holland (a 2-1 victory in the group stage), I am keeping my fingers crossed he will play.”

Italy have shown a spirit and an attacking philosophy at odds with their usual style at major finals and in 33-year-old Andrea Pirlo they perhaps have the player of the tournament so far, whose radar-like passing and vision is almost unparalleled.

However, with less time to rest and prepare for Germany after a gruelling, if deserved penalty shoot-out win over England, it will take something special to stop the Germans.

While Germany have produced a string of vibrant and eye-catching performances as they seek their first title in 16 years, the Spanish may have been clinical, yet have not looked the unbeatable force of both four years ago and the 2010 World Cup.

That latter theory will be the first to be put to the test as the Spaniards take on their Iberian rivals Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Wednesday.

Portugal will not be the same tame side that Spain beat 1-0 in the second round of the 2010 World Cup, instead a confident outfit under Paulo Bento, who replaced the uninspiring Carlos Queiroz early in the Euro qualifying campaign.

What has rounded the circle for them has been that Cristiano Ronaldo, who terrorises club defences around Europe, has finally surfaced and begun to bury the impression that he fails to perform at the same level for the national side.

Three goals and outstanding performances in the last two games against the hapless Dutch and a defensive-minded Czech Republic have given Ronaldo the momentum he requires to tackle an altogether more imposing opponent in the Spanish.

But fullback Joao Pereira, whom Bento gave his debut at the relatively late age of 26 and has impressed at the tournament, said that aside from the individual brilliance of Ronaldo the team has a unity that gives it great strength.

“Each side has a 50 percent chance (of qualifying for the final),” said the former Sporting Lisbon defender, who signed for La Liga outfit Valencia in May for a reported €3.5 million euros.

“We must have a healthy respect for Spain but we are not going to respect them too much because we, too, have great players of great value to us.”

Spain disposed of France with the minimum of fuss and yet again Vicente del Bosque’s decision not to start with a recognised striker paid off, as defensive midfielder Xabi Alonso scored both goals.

However, of more concern to Del Bosque is that his rivals will have had more time to rest and begin preparing for the semi-final.

“We are going to recuperate well (but) this 48 hours difference between games compared with our rivals is a bit of a handicap. We suffered in the heat and that’s tough on players at this time of year,” said Del Bosque.

AFP/hc

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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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