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FOOTBALL

Real Madrid fans jam streets after Cup win

Thousands of cheering Real Madrid fans welcomed their team back to the Spanish capital early on Thursday after winning the Copa del Rey with a 2-1 victory over arch rivals Barcelona.

Real Madrid fans jam streets after Cup win
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas displays the Copa del Rey trophy. Photo: AFP/Gerard Julien

Supporters, many wrapped in the club's flag, cheered as the squad arrived at Madrid's central Cibeles Square, the traditional home for raucous Real Madrid victory celebrations, in a white open-topped bus with the word "champions" written in black letters on its sides.

Fans applauded Real goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas as, following tradition, he leant over the side of the bus and wrapped a Madrid insignia and club scarf around the statue of the Roman goddess that adorns a fountain in the square.

The victory bus drove three times around the fountain as fans twirled Real scarves in the air and took photos of the players.

"Winning the cup is fantastic, winning against Barcelona is even better," said Ezequiel Munoz, a 20-year-old student who came to the square with a group of friends after the match.

"We are going to celebrate all night long," added Munoz, who wore a black and white Real jersey with the name of the club's defender Sergio Ramos on its back.

Gareth Bale scored a stunning individual goal five minutes from time to secure Real Madrid's 19th Copa del Rey at the Mestalla in Valencia on Wednesday.

The jubilant crowd had started gathering around the stage set up by the fountain in the middle of the square as soon as the final whistle blew on Real Madrid's win.

The celebrating fans included large groups of teenagers, fathers with their young sons, elderly couples and a few people with dogs wearing Real scarves around their necks.

Fans chanted, set off firecrackers and danced in the streets while they waited for the players to arrive, as images of a football and a trophy along with the word "champions" were beamed onto the walls of city hall.

"I am very happy. I had no doubts that they were going to win because I saw that Madrid's defence was very tight and the counter attack was very well studied," said Juan Moreno, a 61-year-old Venezuelan plumber who waved a large Real Madrid flag.

After failing to win the cup competition between 1993 and 2011, Real Madrid have now won it twice in the last four years.

"Real Madrid is the best club in the world, they deserve this win, they are playing very well," said Adel Aboukar, 24, sporting a black blazer and jeans as he joined the celebrations with a friend after watching the match in a nearby bar.

Madrid city hall deployed 170 police to monitor the celebrations. 

Emergency services said they treated 16 people for dizziness, anxiety attacks and minor injuries, mainly cuts and bruises due to falls.

Real Madrid's win made the front pages of Spain's newspapers on Thursday.

"Bale's Cup," wrote centre-right daily El Mundo on its front page while top-selling daily newspaper El Pais wrote "A ray from Bale decides the Cup" below a photo of Casillas raising the trophy in the air.

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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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