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FOOTBALL

Victorious Atletico fans party in Madrid

Cheering Atletico Madrid fans swamped the streets of Spain's capital in a joyous red-and-white victory party Saturday after snatching the Spanish Cup by beating Real Madrid for the first time in 14 years in a 2-1 thriller.

Victorious Atletico fans party in Madrid
Photo: Dani Pozo/AFP

Roars of delight echoed through the Spanish capital as fans welcomed their Argentine coach Diego Simeone and the players in the central city square, Plaza de Neptuno, the traditional victory venue for Atletico fans, who are more used to seeing their derby rivals celebrate just up the road in the Plaza Cibeles.

Atletico Madrid players toured the city from their stadium Vicente Calderon to the city square on a double-decker, open-top bus painted with the words CHAMPIONS on the side, brandishing the silver King's Cup trophy and parting crowds like a red-and-white sea encircling a statue of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.

"It's great! It's incredible! We deserve it because we have trying and trying for many years and finally it is here," said one fan, 17-year-old emergency health services Carolina de Fente, her face painted in the team colours and hair covered in an Atletico Madrid scarf.

"There are things you have to enjoy once in your life and this is one of them," said 40-year-old salesman Javier Santamaria as supporters broke into a chorus of the team anthem.

"This is the result of work, humility and heart," he added.

Crowds of fans chanted "Champions, Champions" and cried out the name of coach and hero Simeone, who was earlier received at the city hall.

The surprise victory on Friday night gave Atletico fans a rare taste of victory over Real Madrid, who had both coach Jose Mourniho and then forward Cristino Ronaldo sent off.

Real Madrid end the season as runners-up to Barcelona in the League and without managing to snare silverware from either the Spanish Cup or the Champions League.

After years of disapointment, thousands of Atletico supporters could not wait for the organized celebrations Saturday for the 10th Spanish Cup victory in the team's history, swarming instead to the Plaza de Neptuno even before the final whistle.

Good natured celebrations were transformed into sporadic clashes in the early hours of Saturday , however, and some youths burned rubbish containers or threw bottles and stones at police who chased them through the streets.

Police reported 11 arrests and 18 minor injuries.

Spain's press was scathing, however, about Real Madrid's season, almost certainly the final chapter in Mourinho's time in charge.

Madrid sports daily Marca reflected on Mourinho's behaviour on its front page as he didn't go up to collect his loser's medal after being sent from the touchline and admitted afterwards that he "had failed this season."

"Madrid began to run out physically and emotionally," wrote Santi Segurola in Marca. "Madrid's game was defined by the sendings-off for Mourinho and Cristiano, the two flagships of a team that has entered into a lamentable spiral after their elimination from the European Cup.

"Atletico kept their temperament. They didn't concede the opportunity that Madrid looked for. Not this time. They beat their old rival on the best day possible and in the dream scenario."

And there was plenty of criticism laid at Mourinho's door, not just for defeat on Friday night, but for his three-year spell in charge which has delivered just the league title last season and the 2011 Copa del Rey in terms of major trophies.

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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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