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CONFEDERATIONS CUP

FOOTBALL

Spain down Nigeria to set up Italy showdown

Spain set up a Confederations Cup semi-final reunion with Euro 2012 final victims Italy after beating Nigeria 3-0 on a steamy afternoon in Fortaleza on Sunday to secure top spot in Group B.

Spain down Nigeria to set up Italy showdown
Spain's forward Roberto Soldado (top) and Nigeria's defender Azubuike Egwuekwe during their FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 match. Aitan Abramovich/AFP

Vicente del Bosque's side needed just a point to confirm a place in the last four, but they made doubly sure thanks to a fine brace of goals from Jordi Alba and a 62nd-minute header by substitute Fernando Torres.

The world and European champions will now face Italy, who they crushed 4-0 in last year's Euro 2012 final, in the second semi-final in Fortaleza on Thursday, a day after Brazil meet Uruguay in Belo Horizonte.

"It was a difficult match. We had an excellent rival who fought for the ball," said Spain coach Del Bosque.

"In the end we were able to control the ball and break the match, and that was favourable for us. I think both teams should have scored more goals."

On the prospect of facing Italy again, he said: "It is a challenge for us. We want to play the final on the 30th.

"For Italy it'll also be a very important match, because after the final of the European Championship, I guess they'll want revenge."

Nigeria were ultimately left to rue last Thursday's damaging 2-1 defeat by Uruguay, having begun their Confederations Cup campaign with a breezy 6-1 thrashing of Tahiti.

"We played against a better side, a team who've been together for a long time," said Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi.

"It's a learning process for us, it's good. We have to continue from where we stopped tonight, and build on that."

It was the teams' first meeting since Nigeria beat Spain 3-2 in the group phase of the 1998 World Cup, and if the world champions were out for revenge, they were quick to draw first blood at Estadio Castelao.

There were three minutes on the clock when Andres Iniesta sprayed a pass wide to Barcelona team-mate Alba, and the left-back weaved around three challenges before stroking a low shot past Vincent Enyeama.

Nigeria looked set for an afternoon of toil amid stifling humidity inside the stadium, but despite losing Kenneth Omeruo to injury in the 11th minute, they took the fight to Spain.

Brown Ideye and Joseph Akpala spurned half-chances, while Spain goalkeeper Victor Valdes did superbly to tip a snapshot from the recalled Sunday Mba around the post.

Despite several slick interchanges, the African champions' composure repeatedly let them down whenever they penetrated the Spanish area, but Spain were not without blame in that department either.

Roberto Soldado twice shot straight at Enyeama when clean through on goal, while Cesc Fabregas conspired to hit the post from only eight yards after being picked out by Soldado's sweeping low cross.

Ideye should have drawn Nigeria level early in the second half, but although Ahmed Musa's low centre presented him with an open goal at the back post, he miscued and was unable to dispatch a shot.

Spain introduced David Silva and Torres from the bench and within minutes of coming on, the Chelsea striker made it 2-0, flinging himself at Pedro Rodriguez's left-wing cross to score with a glorious flying header.

Having scored four times in the record-breaking 10-0 rout of Tahiti earlier this week, Torres is now the tournament's leading scorer with five goals.

Godfrey Oboabona prevented the former Liverpool man adding a third with a timely block, before substitute Muhammad Gambo spurned another good chance at the other end by slicing wide with only Valdes to beat.

Spain successfully took the sting out of the game thereafter, only for Alba to add the coup de grace in the 88th minute when he sprang the offside trap, rounded Enyeama, and rolled the ball into the net.

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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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