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FOOTBALL

Valencia stun Barcelona in five-goal thriller

Valencia inflicted Barcelona's first league defeat at the Camp Nou since April 2012 as they came from behind to win 3-2 on Saturday.

Valencia stun Barcelona in five-goal thriller
Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

Alexis Sanchez had given the hosts a deserved early lead, but goals just before and after half-time from Dani Parejo and Pablo Piatti turned the game on its head.

Lionel Messi quickly levelled from the penalty spot, only for Paco Alcacer to strike the winner low past Victor Valdes five minutes later.

And Barca's day was summed up 13 minutes from time when Jordi Alba was sent-off for a second bookable offence.

Both Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid now have the chance to end Barca's record run of 59 league games at the top of the table when they face Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao respectively on Sunday.

It was a stunning turnaround from Valencia after a dominant display from Barca in the opening half hour and Juan Antonio Pizzi hailed his side's reaction after the break.

"We noticed at half-time that we needed to compete more and we corrected that in the second-half," he said.

"In the second-half we were very good and dominated the game. We didn't suffer that much at the back and every counter-attack we had looked dangerous."

Barca boss Gerardo Martino, meanwhile, admitted his side had paid for not killing off their opponents in that opening spell.

"I was anxious to consolidate our early advantage because the game is not over until the referee blows the final whistle and it felt like we stopped after half an hour," he said.

"This week I said that at this stage of the season you pay a heavy price for any errors and today we committed a lot of errors."

The Argentine believed Valencia's equaliser just before half-time was the turning point in the match.

"Probably Valencia's first goal caused us to lose a bit of  confidence. In the second-half that made us a bit more desperate, which in turn made us commit more errors. We seemed like one team in the first-half and another in the second."

Barca had gotten off to the best possible start as Sanchez's shot looped up over the stranded Alves after just seven minutes.

The hosts should have then built on their lead as Diego Alves made a brilliant save to prevent Sanchez doubling his tally with a header from point-blank range, whilst Sergio Busquets, Messi and Dani Alves all came close.

However, Barca's intensity dipped after the opening half hour and Valencia missed a great chance to equalise when Ricardo Costa headed wide when presented with an open goal after Victor Valdes completely misjudged a corner from the right.

Valencia did level just before the break as Parejo swept home Sofiane Feghouli's low cross.

And the visitors went in front just three minutes after the restart as Piatti took advantage of more hesitation by Valdes to loop a header into the net.

Barcelona were handed a reprieve six minutes later when referee Pedro Perez Montero wrongly awarded a penalty for handball against Costa when the ball appeared to have struck the Valencia captain's shoulder.

Messi showed no mercy form the spot as he rifled high into the roof of the net to register his first league goal in nine games stretching back to September.

However, it took Valencia just five minutes to retake the lead as Alcacer slotted home another intelligent cut-back from Feghouli.

Barca boss Martino then introduced Andres Iniesta in a bid to turn the game around, but it made little difference as his flustered side failed to find any sort of rhythm.

Their chances to taking anything from the game appeared to disappear with Alba as he was sent-off against his former club for a bodycheck on Feghouli.

But Messi had one final chance to rescue a point as he danced past a posse of Valencia defenders before slotting just past the far post in stoppage time.

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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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