Man Utd target blasts Germany to win over Slovakia

Germany coach Joachim Löw appears to have found the right formula to get his attack firing at Euro 2016 after Julian Draxler's outstanding contribution in Sunday's 3-0 win over Slovakia.

Man Utd target blasts Germany to win over Slovakia
Julian Draxler (l) celebrates with Mario Gomez and Thomas Müller. Photo: DPA

The 22-year-old Wolfsburg attacking midfielder was the man of the match as Germany produced arguably their slickest performances since winning the 2014 World Cup to clinch a place in the European Championship quarter-finals.

After Jerome Boateng's early opener, Mesut Ozil had a 13th-minute penalty saved before Draxler intervened with an assist and a goal to set the world champions up for a last-eight date with Italy or Spain.

Playing on the left wing, Draxler combined superbly with Jonas Hector before cutting the ball back for Mario Gomez to double Germany's lead just before half-time.

And the former Schalke prodigy then volleyed home on his right foot from close range following a corner just after the hour mark, securing a comfortable win on a sunny evening in northern France.

Draxler had started Germany's opening two games before being left on the bench in the 1-0 win against Northern Ireland last Tuesday but he was recalled at the expense of Mario Götze on Sunday and his performance justified Löw's selection.

“It wasn't easy in the last game because I didn't play but today I was happy to play and help the team,” said Draxler.

“We have a lot of quality in our side so it doesn't matter if I don't play I just work hard in training so the manager can count on me if needed.”

Draxler, who said he found out he would be starting the game when he spoke to Löw just after breakfast at the team's hotel, admitted getting into one-on-one situations with the Slovakian defence had been a key part of the German plan.

“The coach asked me to do that. He gave me a lot of self-confidence. He trusts in my quality and wanted me to search for the one-on-ones,” said Draxler, who gave Slovakia's Bundesliga-based right-back Peter Pekarik a torrid time at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.

False nine experiment

A player with “two magic feet” according to Gomez, Draxler's performance summed up why Manchester United have been linked with a €36.5 million bid to sign him just a year after he joined Wolfsburg.

It may, however, take far more than that for Wolfsburg to part with a player who is not 23 until September and has four years left on his contract, especially after his display on Sunday.

Draxler's goal was just his second for his country on his 22nd appearance, with his only other strike coming in a friendly defeat to the United States in June 2013.

But his game is more about making chances for others, and Gomez's latest goal-scoring display to follow his winner against Northern Ireland was another source of satisfaction for Löw.

After unsuccessfully using Götze, the scorer of the winner in the World Cup final against Argentina, as a false nine in the 2-0 victory against Ukraine and the goalless draw with Poland, Gomez has come in and scored in successive games.

And after labouring to convert their chances against Northern Ireland, Germany had a greater cutting edge against Slovakia with Draxler, Thomas Müller and Ozil supporting Gomez, while Götze was left on the bench.

Asked if Sunday's win was the end of his false nine experiment, Löw replied: “For us, the problem is not having a real or a false nine. If nobody runs in behind the defence we won't do anything.

“Against Northern Ireland we did better in that regard than against Poland.

Whether it's Götze, Müller or the others, they got in behind every time.

Today it was the case as well.

“When we got the ball into the box we always had three or four players there. That wasn't the case against Poland.”

With their defence keeping a fourth straight clean sheet and an attack clicking into gear at the right time, Germany are going to take some beating.

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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.