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EURO 2016

FOOTBALL

Germany scrape through to Euro 2016 finals

Germany qualified for the Euro 2016 finals as Group D winners after substitute Max Kruse's winner sealed a nervous 2-1 victory over Georgia on Sunday for the world champions.

Germany scrape through to Euro 2016 finals
Photo: DPA

Thomas Müller netted a 50th-minute penalty for Germany only for Georgia captain Jaba Kankava to make up for conceding the spot kick by hitting a superb equaliser, but Kruse then came off the bench to claim the late winner.

The result saw Germany finish top of the table by a point, while Poland join them in qualifying directly for the finals in France after their 2-1 win over the Republic of Ireland in Warsaw.

But Germany's victory in Leipzig did little to disguise the world champions' below-par campaign over the last 12 months and head coach Joachim Löw admits there is huge room for improvement.

With the scores locked at 1-1 mid-way through the second-half, Georgia threatened to inflict a second embarrassing defeat on Germany, who had succumbed to a 1-0 loss to Ireland in Dublin last Thursday.

Today we can sing the same song from the Ireland match,” fumed Löw.

“We missed three or four very clear chances in the first half and a certain frustration comes when errors creep in.

“We are generally satisfied that we have managed to qualify, but dissatisfied with the last two games.

“That is not our standard, there is still much work ahead of us.”

After away defeats to both Poland and Ireland, this has been Germany's worst qualifying campaign for a major tournament since the 2002 World Cup when they finished second behind England in their group.

They were made to work in Leipzig by a battling Georgia team who finished second from bottom in the table.

Both sides had first half chances as Marco Reus and Müller went close while Georgia's Tornike Okriashvili forced Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer into a stunning save on 27 minutes from 12 metres out.

Germany looked to have the game under control when Mesut Özil was sent sprawling by Kankava early in the second half as Müller stepped up to slot home the resulting penalty.

But Kankava instantly made amends when the midfielder chested down a poor headed clearance from Jonas Hector and unleashed a rocket of a volley into the top right-hand corner on 53 minutes.

It sent the small pocket of watching Georgia fans into ecstasy and suddenly Germany's direct qualification looked far from assured.

Another Hector mistake gave midfielder Valeri Kazaishvili a half chance on 57 minutes from which he drew another top save from Neuer.

But Wolfsburg's Kruse came off the bench on 76 minutes to spare Germany's blushes.

The 27-year-old had been on for just 150 seconds when he collected Özil's final pass and slammed his shot home.

The winner nudged Germany into life and although they created further chances, Löw will demand his attack finishes more chances in November's friendlies against France and the Netherlands.

“In training, we shoot 50 goals and ball after ball flies into the net,” said a bemused Neuer when asked about Germany's poor finishing.

“We need the killer instinct up front and we're making life hard for ourselves when we also concede the equaliser.

“Hopefully, we'll be different for the European championships and will re-find our game, which the German national side is known for.”

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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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