France: Wrong anthem debacle mars France-Albania clash

At its best, sport can promote international harmony, but that was not the case at the Stade de France where the hosts played the Andorran anthem for the Albanian team.

France: Wrong anthem debacle mars France-Albania clash

The visitors refused to kick off their Euro 2020 qualifier on Saturday night. When their demand was met, they beamed, sung, celebrated and started the match, which they lost 4-1. 

“It was a big thing,” said Albania's Italian coach Edoardo Reja. Anthems, and other national symbols such as flags, are an inescapable part of international sports.

Yet with surprising frequency, teams solemnly lined up for anthems register surprise or outrage when they find “they aren't playing our tune.”

On Saturday, the hosts played the anthem of Andorra, the next visitor to the Stade de France, a tune unlikely to cause political offence to anyone.

Sometimes the errors are understandable. Slovenia's anthem played after a Slovakian victory at the ice hockey world championships.

Other incidents have struck a political nerve.

The often-changed Russian anthem has caused frequent problems. Russia adopted Mikhail Glinka's 'Patriotic Song' in 1991. Nine year's later, after the election of Vladimir Putin, Russia reverted to a modified version of the old Soviet anthem, retitled 'State Anthem of the Russian Federation.'

Russian athletes have become adept at singing the latest version. After the wrong anthem was played at the biathlon world championships in Hochfilzen, Austria, in 2017 the winning quartet took a microphone and sang the correct version.

Two years earlier, Russian media, reported the women's under 18 ice hockey did the same at their world championships in Buffalo.

Three years later, after the USA beat Russia in the quarterfinals of the under-18 men's ice hockey world championship in Chelyabinsk in Russia, they lined up to hear an unrecognisable and curtailed version of a tune that might have been the Star Spangled Banner.

They responded by singing themselves. The 2003 Davis Cup final between Australia and Spain almost provoked a diplomatic incident.

The hosts hired a famed local jazz trumpeter, James Morrison to play the anthems.

When he played the pre-civil war Himno de Riego instead of the Marcha Real, Spain's secretary for sport, Juan Antonio Gomez Angulo, in Melbourne for the event, ordered his team to refuse to start until they had received a formal apology for “this intolerable offence”.

Borat anthem

In 2015, Armenian media reported drily that at the youth championships for Sambo, in Serbia, the Azerbaijani winner had to listen to the Armenian national anthem.

The two countries are officially at war. When Uruguay played Mexico in Phoenix in the Copa America, their anthem was replaced with that of Chile.

Television images showed star striker Luis Suarez angry on the Uruguayan bench. Organisers blamed “human error.” It could have been worse.

At a shooting competition in Kuwait, Kazakh winner Maria Dmitrienko listened straight-faced to “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” a parody anthem from the Sacha Baron Cohen film Borat downloaded by mistake from the internet.

Sometimes it is not enough to play the right anthem. It has to be played right.

For the London Olympics the organisers had the seemingly foolproof idea of hiring the famous London Philharmonic Orchestra to record all the anthems at the even more famous Abbey Road Studios.

The reviews were not all positive. After winning a fencing gold and hearing their anthems, the Hungarians politely requested a change.

“The rhythm and tones were off,” said Jeno Kamuti, chief of the Hungarian fencing team.

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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.