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FOOTBALL

Barcelona coach Martino hails ‘exceptional’ Valdes

Barcelona boss Gerardo Martino lauded the form of goalkeeper Victor Valdes after he saved a second penalty in as many games in the Catalans' 4-0 win at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.

Barcelona coach Martino hails 'exceptional' Valdes
Photo: Mohd Rasfan/AFP

Valdes parried Roberto Trashorras' spot-kick 10 minutes before half-time when the hosts were leading just 1-0 thanks to Pedro Rodriguez's opener.

Pedro went onto complete a hat-trick in the second-half with Cesc Fabregas adding a late fourth to move Barca back to the top of the table and maintain their 100 percent start to the league season.

"He is in exceptional form, he is one of the three best keepers in Spain and we can only enjoy how he is playing," Martino told a press conference.

"Although you don't always hope to have to enjoy watching your goalkeeper so much, he made three or four decisive saves."

The game was also remarkable for the fact that despite losing heavily for the fourth successive game, Rayo amazingly had more possession than Barcelona.

It was the first time in over five years and 317 matches that Barca had enjoyed less of the ball than their opponents.

However, Martino put that statistic down to Rayo's pressing rather than his insistence that his side play a more direct style.

"Sometimes it is difficult to play out from our goalkeeper and we will look for longer passes. In games like this with such intense pressure it is necessary to win the second balls.

"I liked that in the second-half, apart from the last move of the game, we weren't anxious in defence like we were against Ajax (in the Champions League in mid-week).

"The team has a great capacity to score goals and if we keep a clean sheet then we always have a chance."

And Valdes himself believes too much is being made of Barca's new direct style.

"There is too much talk about this topic. We don't have to be fixated by it," he said.

"We try to be faithful to our style, but we have a new coach and there might be a new idea."

Understandably the 31-year-old was happier to reflect on his own form, including a 10th career penalty save in La Liga.

"Fortunately with the penalty the ball went straight down the middle and I had stayed on my feet. I am satisfied with how everything is going, but the most important thing
is that we are winning games. It is important to start like this and we need to continue this dynamic.

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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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