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FOOTBALL

De Rossi joins growing Azzurri injury list

Roma's Daniele De Rossi has joined Italy's growing injury list for their friendly against Portugal, four days after the Azzurri kept their Euro 2016 qualifying hopes alive in a controversial 1-1 draw away to Croatia.

De Rossi joins growing Azzurri injury list
AS Roma's Daniele De Rossi has joined Italy's growing injury list for their friendly against Portugal. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Midfielder De Rossi, who missed Friday's match in Split with an as yet unspecified injury, failed to pass a fitness test during training earlier on Sunday and has been ruled out of Tuesday's game in Geneva.

A statement by the Italian football federation (FIGC) said: “The Roma midfielder's evaluation by medical staff after training confirmed his unavailability for the match in Geneva, and he will leave the camp.”

Italy coach Antonio Conte is already without goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon (cut knee) and defender Lorenzo De Silvestri (knee), who both picked up knocks against Croatia.

De Silvestri, notably, is facing several months on the sidelines after suffering anterior cruciate knee ligament damage less than half an hour into the game. Reports on Sunday said he has already undergone surgery.

The result left Croatia top of Group H with their two-point lead on Italy intact and helped them the Azzurri avoid being overtaken by Norway, who were held to a scoreless draw in Oslo by Azerbaijan and remain third two points further adrift.

But Niko Kovac's men are in dire straits.

Croatia is sweating on possible Uefa sanctions in relation to the latest affair to embarrass the country's football federation (HNS) and blacken the reputation of the country's fans.

During Friday's game a giant swastika was visible on the pitch at the Poljud Stadium, the home of top Croatian league side Hajduk Split. It is believed to have been chemically-burned into the pitch and was still visible at the final whistle despite attempts by ground workers to remove it.

The incident, which is being investigated by police, is the latest in a long line – involving violence and racist behaviour – to have heaped embarrassment

Friday's game was played behind closed doors, in a virtually empty stadium as punishment for fan violence and racist incidents when Croatia played Norway earlier in the qualifying campaign.

Last November, fan violence and the throwing of rocket flares on to the pitch marred the Italy v Croatia qualifier at the San Siro stadium in Milan, which finished 1-1 following an interruption of several minutes.

A spokesman for the HNS, Tomislav Pacak, said of the swastika incident: “This was an obvious act of sabotage and a criminal act. We condemn it and ask the police and judicial bodies to find the person(s) responsible for what is a shame not only for Croatian football, but the entire country.”

A Uefa spokesman told AFP it was awaiting the reports of the referee and the body's match delegate before deciding whether to open an investigation.

Italy's absences, meanwhile, could prove costly ahead of meeting a Portugal side for whom Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in their 3-2 Euro 2016 qualifying win away to Armenia.

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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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