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FOOTBALL

Messi strikes at the death as Barcelona beat Real Madrid in five-goal thriller

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique revelled in turning the tables on bitter rivals Real Madrid as Lionel Messi struck deep into stoppage time to edge a thrilling El Clasico 3-2 on Sunday.

Messi strikes at the death as Barcelona beat Real Madrid in five-goal thriller
Lionel Messi celebrates Barcelona's third goal. Photo: Oscar del Pozo/AFP

Messi's second goal of the night was his 500th for Barcelona and took the Catalans to the top of La Liga.

“He is the best player for me in history and I have seen a lot of football,” said Enrique. “In modern football when everyone is tactically and physically better he still makes the difference.

“The fact he has scored his 500th goal shows all of us as Barca fans are lucky to have him identified with the club.”

The timing of Messi's strike also saw Barca gain revenge for Sergio Ramos's stoppage time equalizer in a 1-1 draw when the sides last met back in December.

“It is marvellous for us to win in the 92nd minute. It is something that is normally more a characteristic of our rivals, but we like to do it too,” added Enrique.

Barca lead at the top of the table thanks to their better head-to-head record. Madrid, though, still have the advantage as they have a game in hand.

“To score in the 92nd minute is a huge confidence boost,” said Enrique, who will leave the club at the end of the season.

However, he and Barca captain Andres Iniesta called on Messi, whose contract expires at the end of next season, not to follow him in leaving the Camp Nou.

“Barca is an incredible club with many years of history, but without doubt an important part of that history is Leo Messi,” Enrique said.

'A blessing'

“I think the great thing about Leo is that he continues to surprise,” said Iniesta.

“After so many years he is still decisive. It is an honour and a blessing for the club to have him.”

By contrast, Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane was left to lament his side's over adventurous nature after conceding in stoppage time after being reduced to ten men.

Messi had cancelled out Casemiro's opener before half-time.

But Barca looked well on the road to victory when Ivan Rakitic's stunning effort put the visitors 2-1 in front before Madrid captain Sergio Ramos was sent off for a wild lunge on Messi.

However, Madrid rallied when a man down as substitute James Rodriguez fired home an equalizer four minutes from time.

“Drawing the game with ten men, to press high up the field is dangerous and we paid for that,” said Zidane.

“I can't criticize the players for anything though. We gave our all, but we didn't manage to get the three points.

“We didn't deserve to lose, but that is football.”

Madrid now need to take at least 16 points from their final six La Liga games to be guaranteed the title. “There will be much more of a title race, but it is still in our own hands,” added Zidane.

Madrid were also dealt a fresh injury blow for the remainder of their league season and upcoming Champions League semi-finals against Atletico Madrid as Gareth Bale faces another spell on the sidelines.

The Welshman lasted just 38 minutes on his return after missing Madrid's last two outings with persistent ankle problems.

“I don't regret anything,” said Zidane over his decision to start Bale.

“I am disappointed for him. He started the game well and then the injuries we can't control. “We will see what exactly the injury is and hope it is as little as possible.”

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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