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FOOTBALL

Five-goal Madrid battle to beat Mallorca

Real Madrid assistant manager Aitor Karanka said they must stop conceding poor goals from set-pieces as the Spanish champions twice had to come from a goal down to beat Mallorca 5-2 at the Bernabeu on Saturday.

Five-goal Madrid battle to beat Mallorca
Real Madrid's Argentinian forward Gonzalo Higuain celebrates after scoring his second goal against Mallorca on Saturday. Photo: Dani Pozo/AFP

The visitors went into half-time 2-1 ahead as Emilio Nsue and Alejandro Alfaro scored from free headers either side of Gonzalo Higuain's reply for Madrid, and Mallorca could easily have gone 3-1 up when Alan Hutton headed just wide.

"Set-pieces have caused us problems since the start of the season," Karanka told a press conference.

"It is due to a lack of concentration and communication and obviously it is something we have to keep improving on for the final part of the season."

Luckily for Los Blancos the introduction of Mesut Özil and Karim Benzema at half-time turned the game around as three goals in six minutes from Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Higuain gave them a comfortable lead before Benzema rounded off the scoring in stoppage time.

"In the first-half we were making a lot of errors, not only in the goals but in giving the ball away and committing stupid fouls," said Karanka.

"With the changes Kaka and Modric were able to gain possession and I think the squad is built for this."

"You can put out the team you think is best but like against Deportivo a couple of weeks ago or today, the important and good thing is we can change
the dynamic of games with those that come on."

Although still in the bottom three, Mallorca had won their two previous games and went in front after just six minutes as Giovani Dos Santos burst
down the left and his cross was brilliantly headed into the bottom corner by Nsue.

The lead only lasted eight minutes though as Modric released Pepe clear on goal and he squared for Higuain to roll home the equaliser.

However, Mallorca were still posing a threat and went in front again when Giovani produced another fine cross from a corner that was flicked on by Pedro
Bigas and headed in at the back post by Alfaro.

And things could have been even worse for Madrid at the break as Hutton then glanced a header just wide as the hosts continued to struggle from
set-pieces.

Jose Mourinho reacted by introducing Özil and Benzema at the break, but it was again Mallorca who had the first opportunity of the second-half as Bigas
spooned an overhead kick over the bar when completely unmarked just six yards out.

And that miss was to prove crucial as a rapid three-goal salvo decisively swung the game in the hosts' favour.

Firstly, Ronaldo leapt highest to nod in an Özil corner from the right before Modric volleyed in a wonderful strike from fully 30 yards three minutes later.

Özil's impact was felt once more moments later as he showed great composure to lay the ball across the face of goal for Higuain to fire in his second of
the evening.

And Madrid finished with a flourish as Higuain crossed for Benzema to round off the scoring as they cut the gap on Barcelona at the top of the table to 10 points ahead of the Catalans' clash with Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.

Meanwhile in the race for the final Champions League spots, Real Sociedad strengthened their position in fourth with a 4-1 hammering of Valladolid thanks to goals from Imanol Agirretxe, Xabi Prieto and two from Antoine Griezmann.

Valencia moved up into fifth, just two points behind the Basques, as they beat Real Betis 3-0.

Betis were dealt an early blow as Antonio Amaya was sent-off and Roberto Soldado converted the resultant penalty before Paulao's own goal and a strike from Jonas late on sealed the win.

And Getafe moved up to eighth as they stretched their unbeaten run to five-games with a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao.

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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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