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FOOTBALL

Champions Spain held at home by feisty Finland

Teemu Pukki's goal 12 minutes from time stunned reigning world and European champions Spain who were held to a 1-1 draw by Finland in their Group I qualifier on Friday.

Champions Spain held at home by feisty Finland
Photo: Rafa Rivas/AFP

The hosts endured a frustrating first 45 minutes as they struggled to find a way through a camped Finnish defence, but they appeared on their way to victory when Sergio Ramos headed them in front on his 100th cap four minutes into the second-half.

However, they failed to build on their advantage and were made to pay when a good move from the Finns resulted in Pukki prodding home from close range.

The hosts were without the experienced trio of Iker Casillas, Carles Puyol and Xavi through injury so Ramos was also given the honour of captain for the evening.

However, the hosts didn't look like they would miss their veterans as they started brightly and were nearly gifted a goal inside two minutes when only a fine save from Niki Menp prevented Niklas Moisander turning David Silva's driven cross into his own net.

Thereafter though the first-half was tale of Spanish shots from distance as the visitors retreated onto the edge of their own area.

Cesc Fabregas was first to have a go as he curled a shot wide of the far corner before driving another effort just wide of the target.

Santi Cazorla then forced Menp into a decent low save with an angled drive, but the Arsenal midfielder should have opened the scoring when he blazed over from close range.

Silva and Andres Iniesta also went close with long-range effort towards the end of the half, but despite the return of David Villa from injury they were lacking the penetration needed to find a way through.

Vicente Del Bosque acted at half-time by bringing on Pedro Rodriguez, who had scored nine times in his last six internationals, for Cazorla.

The Barcelona winger had an immediate effect as his deflected shot from a short corner fizzed just wide.

And from the resulting corner Ramos rose highest to head in his ninth international goal.

Villa then failed to delight the home fans on his return to the city he started his career as his free-kick drifted over before he was replaced by Alvaro Negredo to rapturous applause.

Ramos came close again with a header that looped just over but Spain were stunned 12 minutes from time when a patient move saw Pukki get in front of Ramos and Gerard Pique to poke home Kasper Hamalainen's cross from the left.

Pique twice headed just off target and Juan Mata also flashed a volley over as the hosts laid a late seige.

However, the visitors held on to leave Spain most likely needing to win their next qualifier against France in Paris on Tuesday to avoid having to qualify for next year's World Cup via the playoffs.

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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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