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41 named in Spain match-fixing probe

Spanish prosecutors filed match-fixing allegations against 41 people including Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera on Monday, accusing them of rigging a decisive 2011 league match.

41 named in Spain match-fixing probe
Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera is one of 41 people named in a Spanish match-fixing probe. FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP

In a court filing seen by news agency AFP, state prosecutors alleged Real Zaragoza players and staff handed hundreds of thousands of euros in cash to Levante players to let Zaragoza win the last match of the season that year and thereby avoid relegation.

The prosecutors said Zaragoza paid a total of €965,000 ($1.2million) into the bank accounts of certain of its coaches, staff and players. Zaragoza won the match 2-1 against Levante, who had already escaped relegation that season, with two goals from Zaragoza's then captain Gabi Fernandez.

Spanish sports daily Marca said that if the case goes to trial and the accused are found guilty, they could face jail sentences of up to four years. Zaragoza's directors, coaches and captains "agreed… with the consent of rest of the players, to fix the match", the prosecutors alleged.

They listed five staff and 18 players of Zaragoza plus 18 Levante players among the accused.

Mexican Javier Aguirre, 56, was Zaragoza coach at the time but was fired a few months into the following season and went on to coach Espanyol. He was named coach of Japan's national side last June after Japan were knocked out of the World Cup in Brazil in the group stages without a win.

However, last week Japan Football Association (JFA) president Kuniya Daini said that they wouldn't have hired Aguirre if they had been aware of the match-fixing scandal.

Herrera, 25, played for Zaragoza in the match in question on May 21st, 2011. Manchester United bought him for £28.8 million (€36 million, $45 million) from Athletic Bilbao last June in one of the first signings by the English side's new coach Louis van Gaal.

Monday's filing was submitted to a judge in the eastern city of Valencia. The judge will decide whether to open a formal judicial investigation.

The recipients then withdrew the same amounts in cash and gave them to Levante players as a "bribe" to throw the match, the prosecutors said.

"The deeds described constitute sporting fraud," the prosecutors wrote.

Among those accused, Fernandez, 31, current captain of Spanish league champions Atletico Madrid, denied the match was fixed, when questioned by prosecutors in a previous hearing in the case on October 2nd.

He said the payment was a bonus and that he returned it in cash when the club asked for it back a few days later, judicial sources said.

Real Zaragoza filed for bankruptcy protection in June 2011.

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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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