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FOOTBALL

Denis Suarez strikes twice as Barcelona storm into cup semis

Barcelona eased into the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey for a seventh consecutive season 6-2 on aggregate as Denis Suarez scored twice in a 5-2 win over Real Sociedad on Thursday.

Denis Suarez strikes twice as Barcelona storm into cup semis
Denis Suarez celebrates after scoring the opener. Photo: AFP

Already leading 1-0 from the first leg, Barca gave Sociedad a mountain to climb as Denis Suarez finished off a great team move with the only real chance of the first-half before Lionel Messi converted from the penalty spot.

Juanmi and Willian Jose grabbed a pair of consolation goals for the visitors either side of Luis Suarez's third for Barca before Arda Turan and Denis Suarez rounded off the rout.

“After the first goal the space opened up. They had a high line, and if you give the three we have up front space, then they kill you,” Denis Suarez told BeIN Sports Spain.

The 28-time winners join Atletico Madrid, Alaves and Celta Vigo, who dumped out Real Madrid on Wednesday, in Friday's semi-final draw.

Barca boss Luis Enrique took no risks with his team selection as all of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez started, whilst Gerard Pique returned at the back after being rested for the 4-0 win at Eibar on Sunday.

One moment of magic lit up a first-half otherwise devoid of goalmouth action as after registering his first Barca goal at the weekend, Denis Suarez's purple patch continued.

Samuel Umtiti robbed Xabi Prieto deep inside the Sociedad half and from there Neymar, Messi and Luis Suarez combined to tee up his namesake for a first time finish into the far corner.

“We found it difficult to play out from the back in the first-half,” added Enrique.

“In the second-half we took better decisions and we took our chances.

“When the players we have are given space, not just for their quality, but their physical ability, they normally take advantage.”

Sociedad had a huge chance to get back into the tie nine minutes into the second period when Jose fired too close to Jasper Cillessen with just the Dutch international to beat from 10 yards out.

And within seconds any lasting hope Sociedad had was gone as Neymar accelerated in behind the visitors' defence and was cynically hacked down by Inigo Martinez with the defender lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Messi had handed responsibility from the spot to Neymar in each of Barca's last two Cup outings, but stepped up himself to register his 29th goal in just 27 games this season.

Sociedad were briefly given a glimmer of hope when substitute Juanmi took advantage of a glaring gap in the centre of the Barca defence to lob Cillessen.

Barca immediately responded, though, as Messi shrugged off three Sociedad challenges to release Luis Suarez to slot his 20th goal of the season under Geronimo Rulli.

The Basques once again responded as Jose bulleted home a header 17 minutes from time.

Yet, that once again just kicked Barca back up a gear as Turan tapped home Aleix Vidal's cross minutes after replacing Neymar before Messi teed up Denis Suarez for his second of the night.

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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