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Atletico desperate to end Champions League drought in high-stakes Madrid derby

Atletico Madrid captain Gabi insisted on Monday it is winning the Champions League not gaining revenge on Real Madrid that motivates him as the Spanish giants face off once more in Tuesday's semi-final, first leg.

Atletico desperate to end Champions League drought in high-stakes Madrid derby
Atletico Madrid's players gather in the centre of the pitch during a training session at Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on May 1st 2017. Photo: AFP

Real have beaten Atletico in each of the past three seasons in the Champions League, including twice in the final in agonising circumstances for the red and white part of Madrid in 2014 and 2016.

“I am not more motivated to play against Real Madrid than any other team,” said Gabi, 33, who has spent 10 years at Atletico in two spells.

“What motivates me is being in the final, to win the long-awaited Champions League that we all want.”

Atletico led until the 93rd minute of the 2014 final when Sergio Ramos's header sparked a Real fightback as they went onto win 4-1 in extra-time.

A year later Javier Hernandez got the only goal of a bad-tempered tie as Real progressed 1-0 on aggregate in the quarter-finals.

And in last season's final, Real emerged victorious in a penalty shootout in Milan after a 1-1 draw.

“You always correct things from the past, but above all you learn from defeat,” said Atletico defender Diego Godin.

Both sides are seeking historic firsts as Real eye a 12th European crown in Cardiff on June 3rd by becoming the first side to retain the trophy in the Champions League era.

Meanwhile, Atletico are still seeking their first ever Champions League as the only side to lose three finals without ever lifting the trophy.

“What happened in the past is in the past, we can't rely on that now,” said Real boss Zinedine Zidane.

“It has been positive for us, but now it is a completely different tie and they will be doing their utmost to go through as well.

“The extra motivation comes from it being a Champions League semi-final.”

Bale absent

Gareth Bale and central defender Pepe are Real's only injury absentees.

Isco and Marco Asensio will compete for Bale's place, whilst the fit again Raphael Varane will replace Pepe in the only two changes Zidane is likely to make from the side that started a 1-1 La Liga draw against Atletico at the Bernabeu just over three weeks ago.

“I've been in Madrid for four years and in each of the four we've faced them in the Champions League,” said Isco

“Hopefully the outcome will be the same as in previous years.

“They'll be desperate to beat us after the two Champions Leagues that we've won.”

Atletico have more injury worries as Jose Maria Gimenez suffered a groin problem in Saturday's 5-0 thrashing of Las Palmas to join right-backs Juanfran and Sime Vrsaljko on the sidelines.

Diego Simeone will therefore be forced into a defensive reshuffle with Stefan Savic, a centre-back by trade, the favourite to be moved to right-back with Lucas Hernandez partnering Godin at the heart of the defence.

“I am clear on who is going to play (at right-back),” said Simeone.

“Absences are important, but I understand football as a team game. Many times an important player can be missing an the team overcomes that loss.”

Yannick Carrasco is also a major doubt after the Belgian winger suffered a collarbone injury in last week's 1-0 defeat to Villarreal.

The return of Kevin Gameiro, though, was a huge boost for Simeone as the French international scored twice in his first start for six weeks at the weekend.

By AFP's Kieran Canning

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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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