Fiorentina score spot in Europa League

Europa League semi-finalists Fiorentina secured their place in next season's competition with a stunning 3-2 win at Palermo, as Verona striker Luca Toni moved top of the Serie A scoring charts on Sunday.

Fiorentina score spot in Europa League
Fiorentina's six-point lead over Sampdoria means their spot in next season's Europa League is secure. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

Fiorentina, outclassed by Sevilla in Europe's second tier competition last week, got off the mark in Sicily thanks to former Palermo forward Josip Ilicic's 23rd minute screamer from 25 metres.

Mato Jajalo levelled for the hosts with a great volley only three minutes later, but Fiorentina were back in front just after the half hour when Alberto Gilardino was on hand to turn a Mati Fernandez shot past Stefano Sorrentino.

Vincenzo Montella's visitors were stunned on 69 minutes when Luca Rigoni levelled for the hosts, but Marcos Alonso restored their lead 12 minutes from time to ruin what was Palermo striker Paulo Dybala's last home game before his imminent move to Juventus.

The result moved Fiorentina up one place to fifth, two points ahead of sixth-placed Genoa.

Genoa hold the third and final Europa League spot but have been excluded from European competition because their Luigi Ferraris stadium does not meet UEFA standards.

Fiorentina's six-point lead over Sampdoria, in seventh, means their spot in next season's Europa League is secure.

Elsewhere, a brace of goals, including one from the spot, from Toni in a 2-2 draw away to Parma saw the evergreen Verona striker leapfrog Carlos Tevez and Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi to lead the Serie A scoring charts.

With one game remaining, Toni now leads Juventus striker Tevez and Icardi, who both have 20 goals, by one.

With Juventus securing the double thanks to Wednesday's Cup final win over Lazio, the battle for European places continues apace.    

Lazio host Roma on Monday looking for the win that would allow them to leapfrog their city rivals into second place ahead of next week's final round of games.

A second place finish secures automatic entry to the Champions League, while the team that finishes third goes into a play-off round.    

Roma were held 2-2 by Lazio earlier this season, but coach Rudi Garcia said a third place finish is not in his plans.

“We want to make sure that tomorrow's game is the only one that matters for us in this campaign,” Garcia said in his pre-match conference Sunday.   

“It's up to us tomorrow to show that we are the stronger of the sides.”

Although Napoli, in fourth at three points behind Lazio, remain in Champions League contention, the Biancocelesti require only a draw on Monday to make sure of at least a third place finish.

It has left Rafael Benitez's men, beaten 3-1 by a second-string Juventus on Saturday, heading towards the Europa League alongside Fiorentina and a third side that is increasingly looking like Sampdoria. 

A last-gasp leveller from Samuel Eto'o kept Sampdoria's Europa hopes alive but Sinisa Mihajlovic's men will be relying on results elsewhere.

Sampdoria share Genoa's Luigi Ferraris stadium but have already lodged Sassuolo's Mapei stadium as the venue for European home games in the event they qualify for Europe.

Mihajlovic, however, was less than happy with a scenario which means his side must beat Parma in their final game of the season and hope results elsewhere go their way.

“We've claimed a point, now we need to win our last game and see what happens elsewhere,” Mihajlovic told Sky Sport.

“Genoa are ahead of us and I take my hat off to them…but it would only be a small consolation for us if we got into the Europa League because of their misfortune.”

In Sunday's late game Stephan El Shaarawy hit a brace and Giampaolo Pazzini, from the spot, scored his 100th Serie A goal as ten-man AC Milan put three unanswered goals past ten-man Torino.

The win was one that boosted only Milan's pride amid a disastrous season that has seen the seven-time European champions miss out on Europe altogether.

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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.