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FOOTBALL

Cool to be in quarters, says Dortmund’s Klopp

Borussia Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp tried to play down expectations, but admitted it was "extremely cool" to be in the Champions League quarter-finals after their 3-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday night in their Last 16 second leg clash.

Cool to be in quarters, says Dortmund's Klopp
Photo: DPA

Having drawn 2-2 in Ukraine three weeks ago in the first leg, Borussia went through 5-2 on aggregate as goals by Felipe Santana, Mario Götze and Jakub ‘Kuba’ Blaszczykowski capped the German champions’ dominant display.

After the defeat, Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu repeated his bold prediction that the winner of this tie will reach the final at Wembley on May 25 and said he hopes Dortmund prove him right.

“They have a strong team, they were deserved winners, and like I said yesterday, I think the team that won today will reach the final and I wish them plenty of success,” said the Romanian.

Lucescu is not alone in backing Borussia.

Before his side crashed out at the hands of Real Madrid at home on Tuesday, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson tipped Dortmund to win the title, but Klopp played down rising expectations.

“We have received many compliments on the way we have played in Europe and it feels good to win, but we can’t look further than April 2 when the quarter-finals start,” said the 45-year-old.

“There are still lots of strong teams in the competition. We are just delighted with the result and I am proud of the team.”

Dortmund are in the quarter-finals for the first time in 15 years and can be joined in the last eight by Bundesliga rivals Schalke 04, who host Galatasaray, and Bayern Munich, who are home to Arsenal, next week.

Klopp said he had no preferred opponent in the last eight, whether or not that involved a trip outside Germany, or even just the 40 kilometre (24 miles) drive east to Gelsenkirchen-based Schalke.

“We’ll have to travel where ever we go, well maybe not to Schalke, but we are just happy to be in the last eight,” he said. “We’ll watch the other games, see what the other teams do, it’s just extremely cool to be in the quarter-finals.”

This was their fourth straight home win in Europe this season and their fifth in all.

But the victory came at a cost with both defensive midfielders Sven Bender and Sebastian Kehl facing a race against time to be fit for Saturday’s Ruhr derby at Schalke.

“Sven has an ankle injury, he’s not sure to face Schalke, while Sebastian Kehl also aggravated a rib injury and we have to see how he goes,” said Klopp.

The hosts dominated their Ukrainian opponents with Germany’s rising star Götze, 20, and defensive midfielder Ilkay Gundogan proving a constant thorn in Shakhtar’s side.

“We knew we had a huge chance to reach the quarter-finals and we delivered a great performance,” said Götze. “Obviously scoring two goals in the first half gave us a lot of confidence.”

Centre-back Neven Subotic said Dortmund are proving themselves on the European stage as they target their first Champions League win since 1997, when they beat Juventus 3-1.

“We hope it is our season, we have showed against a big team tonight and in a tough group that we can come out on top,” said Subotic after Dortmund saw off Ajax, Real Madrid and Manchester City in the group stages. “We want to prolong this Champions League experience as long as we can.”

AFP/mry

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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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