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FOOTBALL

Real Madrid set Spanish record with 40-game unbeaten streak

Karim Benzema struck deep into stoppage time as Real Madrid set a new Spanish record by extending their unbeaten run to 40 games in a thrilling 3-3 draw at Sevilla to progress to the Copa del Rey quarter-finals on Thursday.

Real Madrid set Spanish record with 40-game unbeaten streak
Photo: AFP

Karim Benzema struck deep into stoppage time as Real Madrid set a new Spanish record by extending their unbeaten run to 40 games in a thrilling 3-3 draw at Sevilla to progress to the Copa del Rey quarter-finals on Thursday.

Holding a 3-0 first leg lead, a Cristiano Ronaldo-less Real looked set for defeat for the first time in eight months as an own goal from Danilo and second-half strikes from Stefan Jovetic and Vicente Iborra saw Sevilla lead 3-1 inside the final 10 minutes.

However, Sergio Ramos's penalty and substitute Benzema salvaged Madrid's run, which now surpasses the 39-game unbeaten run set by Barcelona last season.    

“Possibly they deserved to win the game, but we fought until the end,” Real boss Zinedine Zidane told GolTV.   

“They deserved more tonight, but the tie is two games and (over the two legs) it is logical that we go through.”   

Both coaches named weakened sides with one eye on Sunday's crunch top of the table La Liga clash between the two back at the Sanchez Pizjuan.    

However, it was Sevilla who settled first as they forced Madrid onto the back foot from the off.

“We had a lot of chances, at least 15 against a team of the stature of Madrid,” said Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli.    

“We were very close. Unfortunately, we couldn't take our chances to show the difference there was between the teams.”   

READ MORE: Five reasons Real Madrid can win the Champions League

Kiko Casilla had already been forced into two saves from Sergio Escudero and Joaquin Correa before Danilo powered a header into his own net after just 10 minutes.

In the absence of Ronaldo and Benzema, Mariano Diaz was handed a rare start up front and nearly levelled in bizarre fashion as Sevilla 'keeper David Soria's clearance ricocheted off the striker and inches wide.  

However, most of the action in the first-half came at the other end as Casilla saved three times in quick succession from Wissam Ben Yedder and Luciano Vietto to prevent Real falling further behind.

Toni Kroos fired inches wide just before the break, but the vital away goal the visitors needed to kill off the tie arrived in spectacular fashion three minutes into the second-half.

Marco Asensio pounced on a clearance from a Sevilla corner on the edge of his own area and ran the length of the field barely challenged before slotting below Soria.

That left Sevilla needing an unlikely four more goals to qualify, but they continued to pour forward as on-loan Inter Milan forward Jovetic marked his debut by volleying home Escudero's cross six minutes later.

Sampaoli threw on frist-team regulars Samir Nasri and Vitolo in search of more goals.

And Madrid's record run appeared to be over when Iborra forced the ball home from close range to make it 3-1 with just 13 minutes remaining.  

However, Casemiro was adjudged to have been pushed inside the area by Matias Kranevitter five minutes later.  

Against his former club, Ramos showed remarkable calm to chip the resulting spot-kick down the middle of the goal.    

And Benzema provided the final sting in the tale three minutes into added time when he saw off two tired Sevilla challenges before firing low past Soria to seal a 6-3 aggregate win.

Earlier, Celta Vigo and Eibar completed their progress into the last eight having already built-up three-goal first leg leads over Valencia and Osasuna respectively.

They will be joined by Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Alaves, Alcorcon and Real Sociedad in Friday's draw.

By AFP's 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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