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FOOTBALL

Barça hopeful on Messi’s fitness for Bayern clash

Barcelona assistant manager Jordi Roura has said he is hopeful Lionel Messi will be fully fit for the first-leg of his side's Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich in 10 days time.

Barça hopeful on Messi's fitness for Bayern clash
Bareclona's Lionel Messi watches the Champions League quarter-final from the bench. Photo: LLuis Gene/AFP

The World Player of the Year was forced into action on Wednesday night against Paris Saint-Germain, despite carrying a hamstring injury, to help his side into the last four for the sixth consecutive season.

Messi has been left out of the squad for Sunday's league match away at Real Zaragoza to allow him to recuperate, but Roura is hopeful he will return to face the German champions.

"We will see how Messi's injury evolves," he told a press conference on Saturday.

"Fortunately, the injury has not worsened. We hope that between now and the 23rd he can get back to full condition."

Sergio Busquets will also miss the trip to Zaragoza due to a pelvic problem, whilst Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba have been left out to give them a rest.

And their absence provoked Roura to join the increasing band of club coaches to criticise the impact that participation in international fixtures has had on his players.

"The calendar has been terrible. On top of all the competitions, we have had many internationals for Spain. Moreover, unfortunately, we have had a lot of injuries. If you combine all of this, it is true that we are a little squeezed."

"But the squad is big, despite all the difficulties we have overcome it and look where we are; first in the league and in the semis of the Champions League."

Despite missing a number of key players though, Roura is determined for Barca to consolidate their 13-point lead at the top of the table this weekend.

"It is true that we are coming from a difficult game in Champions League and with a lot of players out, but the squad has shown it has a great level. Zaragoza are in a difficult situation and therefore it will be a very difficult game."

"They are playing for a lot and the game will be at six o'clock when it will still be warm and the pitch might not be great. All these things will make it more difficult."

Finally, Roura also gave his thoughts on drawing four-times European champions Bayern in the Champions League semi-finals.

"All the opponents that we could have faced were difficult. I think the two best teams in Europe over the past few years are facing each other. We have both got to two finals in recent times and I am not going to discover Bayern, we have already seen how the beat Juventuss. They are very strong."

"In the majority of ties, Barcelona are used to being favourites. This time it might not be the case. This is conditioned by the previous game. Bayern won with ease and we
suffered against PSG."

"I think it will be a well-balanced tie that will be decided by fine details."

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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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