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Five reasons Real Madrid can win the Champions League

Ahead of the start of their 2016-17 Champions League campaign against Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday, AFP Sports takes a look at five reasons defending champions Real Madrid can conquer Europe for the 12th time:

Five reasons Real Madrid can win the Champions League
Photo: AFP

1 It is “their” competition

Understandably given Madrid are by a distance the most successful team in the history of the competition, no club associates themselves more with the history of the Champions League.

A second title in three years took Real four clear of AC Milan as the undoubted kings of Europe and when it comes to big European nights come the springtime, the Santiago Bernabeu is transformed into a cauldron.

A huge part of their success comes from the fact when it comes to balancing priorities at the business end of the season, unlike some others, Madrid always side with the Champions League over domestic duties. Expect this season to be no different.

2 Settled squad

Coach Zinedine Zidane and president Florentino Perez insisted Real's squad was “impossible” to improve upon as they shunned splashing on a Galactico signing in the transfer market.

The return of Alvaro Morata from Juventus was Real's only significant move, which has left an unusual air of stability at the Bernabeu.    

Morata's arrival also adds depth in one of the few positions that needed strengthening as the Spanish international will battle Karim Benzema to be Zidane's first-choice central striker between Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

3 Ronaldo nears Champions League century

Top scorer in the competition for the past four seasons and of all-time, Cristiano Ronaldo is Mr. Champions League and has another significant milestone in reach.

The Portuguese is just seven goals short of a century in the Champions League and having hit double figures in Europe for the past five seasons and recently returned to fitness following knee ligament damage, another barrel load of Champions League goals to take him into three figures seems certain.

4 Bale eyes glorious homecoming

As if Madrid needed any more motivation to defend their title, one of their superstars has an extra special reason to make it back to the final.    

Gareth Bale said he came to Madrid to win the Champions League and has done just that in two of his first three seasons. However, the chance to win it in front of a home crowd in Cardiff on June 3 next year is especially enticing.   

“It would be very nice. I've experienced the Super Cup in Cardiff before and it would be amazing to experience an actual Champions League final in Cardiff as well,” said Bale last week.

5 Challenge of repeating enthrals   

One of the very few feats left for Madrid to conquer in the Champions League is breaking the remarkable 26-year run since the trophy was last retained.

Madrid have tried and failed four times since Milan did it in 1990, but the experience gained from six successive semi-finals means they are better-placed than ever to defend the trophy.

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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