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FOOTBALL

‘Blood, sweat and tears’ not enough for beaten Barça

Lionel Messi ended with a bloodied face, Neymar in tears, but no matter what they tried Barcelona couldn't break down a Juventus defensive wall as the Spanish champions crashed out of the Champions League.

'Blood, sweat and tears' not enough for beaten Barça
Lionel Messi walks on the pitch at the end of the match. Photo: Josep Lago / AFP

Wednesday night's 0-0 draw wasn't the cause of their demise, but an error-strewn 3-0 first leg defeat that left even Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez too much to do against the team with the best defensive record left in the Champions League.

“A goodbye with pride,” ran the headline in both Barcelona sport dailies Mundo Deportivo and Sport.

The hosts were even handed a rousing reception by the near 100,000 fans at the Camp Nou, but there is little time for Barça to lick their wounds as Sunday's El Clasico at La Liga leaders Real Madrid offers a final chance to save their season.

“There was blood, sweat and tears and the Barça fans recognised that with a standing ovation,” said Sport.

“The Clasico arrives as a final chance to lift a season undermined by inconsistency.”

Even a victory at the home of their eternal rivals might not be enough for Barça to win a third straight league title.

Madrid lead the league by three points and also have a game in hand to come.   

However, winning at the Santiago Bernabeu would ramp up the pressure on Zinedine Zidane's men and at the very least offer some joy in a season short on things to shout about.

“We have the chance to put ourselves in the fight for La Liga,” said coach Luis Enrique after overseeing his last Champions League game in charge before stepping down at the end of the season.

“I feel happy to be able to work in a club that always wants to win everything. It is not a good night and it is not a good moment for Barça fans, but we will fight until the end.”

Without the suspended Neymar on Sunday, Barça will need Messi and Suarez to recover their killer instinct. Of Barça's 17 shots on Wednesday, only one was on target and that came from defender Javier Mascherano.   

“Impotent against a wall,” said Madrid sports daily AS.    

“The shots on target are the ones that count,” conceded Enrique.    

Emotions ahead of the Clasico couldn't be more contrasting for Spain's two powerhouses.

Whilst Barça have failed to make it beyond the Champions League quarters for two successive seasons for a first time in a decade, Madrid booked their place in a seventh straight semi-final thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo's hat-trick in a thrilling 6-3 aggregate win over Bayern Munich.

Real have always considered themselves the kings of Europe thanks to their 11 European Cups. However, now they seek to end Barça's recent rule of domestic matters in Spain with just a second league title in eight seasons.   

Messi and Barça captain Andres Iniesta have been two of the mainstays to Barça's decade of dominance.

A bruised Messi will pick himself up to go again at the Bernabeu in search of his 500th Barcelona goal. And Iniesta insisted the Catalans aren't yet a spent force.   

“It is disappointing to be eliminated from the Champions League, but being able to win La Liga depends on winning at the Bernabeu and that is our intention.”

By Kieran Canning / AFP

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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