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Barça beat German rivals in nail-biting Champions League battle

Luis Suarez rounded off a stirring fightback by European champions Barcelona as they shrugged off the absence of the injured Lionel Messi to beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 on Tuesday

Barça beat German rivals in nail-biting Champions League battle
Luis Suarez. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

Kyriakos Papadopoulos had headed the visitors into a deserved half-time lead as Barca struggled to open up the Germans without Messi's magic touch.

However, despite also losing Andres Iniesta to a hamstring injury, Suarez turned the game around in the final 10 minutes as Sergi Roberto tapped home the rebound after the Uruguayan's initial effort had been saved.

And the former Liverpool striker thumped home a stunning effort to hand Barca a hard-fought three points, two minutes later.

Victory takes Barca top of Group E, a point ahead of Leverkusen and BATE Borisov, the latter being 3-2 winners over Roma on Tuesday.

“We believed in ourselves until the end,” Suarez told beIN Sports.

“We couldn't play great football, but we had to win the game. We had to show we are the champions.”

Messi was in attendance at the Camp Nou, but his teammates made a shaky start without him on the field as former Real Madrid striker Javier Hernandez forced Marc-Andre ter Stegen into a smart save at his near post inside two minutes.

Ivan Rakitic had Barca's first effort on target, but the Croatian placed his header too close to Bernd Leno.

Sandro Ramirez was the man given the unenviable task of replacing Messi and nearly repaid coach Luis Enrique's faith as he played a lovely one-two with Suarez before Leno pulled off a spectacular save to turn the 20-year-old's effort behind.

However, Leverkusen's speed on the break was a constant threat and Kevin Kampl should have done better on two occasions as he curled the ball wide and was then denied by a brave block from Gerard Pique with an even clearer sight of goal.

Leverkusen finally took a deserved lead on 22 minutes when Hakan Calhanoglu's brilliant in-swinging corner caught Ter Stegen off guard and Papadopoulos nodded home.

The German international made amends moments later as he stood up to prevent Karim Bellarabi from doubling the visitors' lead.

Much had been expected of Neymar in Messi's absence, but the Brazilian had been kept very quiet until his deflected effort hit the post six minutes before the break and Sandro's follow-up effort somehow deflected off Papadopoulos and behind for a corner.

Hernandez had a golden chance to put the game beyond the hosts at the start of the second-half but blazed over when unmarked just 12 yards out.

At the other end, the chances began to arrive for Barca as Sandro again fired wide before Neymar pushed an effort off target.

However, the bad news continued for Enrique when Iniesta pulled up just after the hour mark to add to the Catalans' mounting injury crisis.

Enrique was forced to turn to youngsters Munir El Haddadi and Roberto from the bench to turn things around.

Both made a big impact as Barca reacted like champions in the final 10 minutes.

Roberto pounced after Leno had saved Suarez's initial effort to net his first European goal.

And moments later substitute Munir squared for Suarez to smash the ball high past the helpless Leno for a memorable winner.

By Kieran Canning

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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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