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FOOTBALL

Messi sets 19-game goal run record as Barça held

Lionel Messi notched up another goal-scoring record Saturday - but Barcelona's cruise towards a 22nd title was halted when Borja Oubina hit a late equaliser which handed Celta Vigo a deserved 2-2 draw.

The visitors were without a number of first-team regulars and were punished for a slow start when Natxo Insa prodded home from close range to put Celta in front seven minutes before half-time.

The lead only lasted five minutes though as Messi released Cristian Tello to curl home a fine equaliser and the roles were reversed 18 minutes from time when Tello cut the ball back for Messi to drill low into the net.

The goal was Messi's 43rd league goal of the campaign and also secured another record for the World Player of the Year.

By scoring for the 19th straight game, he became the first player to score against every other side in the Spanish league in consecutive matches.

However, Celta gave their chances of survival a huge boost as Oubina headed home Fabian Orellana's cross at the back post two minutes from time.

And Barca assistant manager Jordi Roura admitted that his side lacked the concentration required to see the game out.

"I don't want to point out individual errors," said Roura, whose team are still 13 points ahead at the top of La Liga after Real Madrid were held 1-1 by Real Zaragoza.

"We had done the most difficult bit which was to score. In the final few minutes we lacked the collective intensity needed and they have equalised."

Despite his disappointment at the outcome though, Roura did take time to laud another incredible individual achievement by Messi.

"It is a unheard of record that no one has ever achieved. This shows how great this player is. With time, what this player is doing will be valued even more."

Second-placed Real Madrid failed to take advantage of Barca's slip-up as they could only manage a 1-1 draw with Real Zaragoza.

Rodri put the hosts in front after just five minutes before Cristiano Ronaldo equalised seven minutes before half-time.

However, manager Jose Mourinho dismissed suggestions that his side had missed an opportunity to get back into the title race.

"For some time our ambition has not been to win the title again," he told a press conference.

"We already knew that it is a question of points, not of winning it. With the draw today we have lost second place. If Atletico (Madrid) win tomorrow, they will go one point ahead and this is the most important thing."

The Portuguese also stressed that his side's league form should not affect their return to Champions League action on Wednesday.

"This result will not affect us. Our objectives are the final of the cup and the Champions League. In the league we have already achieved finishing amongst the top three and our objective is to finish second and win every game. It will not have any influence looking ahead to Wednesday."

With the return to Champions League action against Galatasary in mind, Mourinho rested the midfield quartet of Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria from the start and the visitors were made to suffer by an energetic Zaragoza side early on.

Rodri fired the hosts into the lead after Apono pounced on a loose ball in midfield and set the former Barcelona man free in behind the Madrid defence where he finished calmly beyond Lopez.

However, Madrid then began to take a hold on the game and after Glenn Loovens' clearance off his own line had denied Pepe, Ronaldo registered his 28th league goal of the campaign with a powerful left-footed shot.

Earlier in the day Malaga moved level with Real Sociedad in fourth as a goal and two assists on his first league start with the club from Pedro Morales guided them to a 3-1 win over Rayo Vallecano.

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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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