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Football: Atletico comeback falls short as Real Madrid reach final

Real Madrid inflicted a fourth Champions League elimination on Atletico Madrid in as many years on Wednesday, losing their semi-final second leg 2-1 but progressing to the final 4-2 on aggregate.

Football: Atletico comeback falls short as Real Madrid reach final
Atletico applaud their supporters at the end of the match as the heavens opened. Photo: AFP

Atletico had threatened an incredible comeback, Saul Niguez's powerful header and Antoine Griezmann's penalty inside 16 minutes cutting Real's aggregate lead to a solitary goal.

The hosts fed off a ferocious atmosphere for their final Champions League match at the Vicente Calderon before moving to the Wanda Metropolitano next season.

READ ALSO: 25 hurt in scuffles between fans ahead of Madrid derby

However, Isco's away goal just before half-time settled Real's nerves and left Atletico with too much to do to progress.   

Cristiano Ronaldo's first leg hat-trick ultimately proved decisive and Real will seek to become the first side to defend the trophy in the Champions League era when they face Juventus in the final in Cardiff on May 3rd.

“I am delighted to reach the final,” said Real boss Zinedine Zidane.

“It is a long road to get there and to do so two years in a row, you have to congratulate the squad.”

An already fierce rivalry between the Spanish giants has intensified in recent years by Real's three Champions League victories over Atletico, including in the 2014 and 2016 finals.   

However, Atletico's players went a long way towards making amends for their meek display in the first leg eight days ago in a thrilling opening.    

“The team showed once more why they have been competing at this level for so many years,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone.   

“Those first 20, 25 minutes will be in the history of the club.    

“The atmosphere was one of those magical moments in the Calderon that will live in people's memories forever.”    

Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas denied Koke from close range and Fernando Torres headed over, before at the other end Jan Oblak made a brilliant save from Casemiro's header.

Atletico got the goal they needed to get back into the tie 12 minutes in when Koke's outswinging corner was met powerfully by Saul for his fourth Champions League goal of the season.

Just three minutes later Atletico truly believed they could pull off the most unlikely of comebacks when Fernando Torres was upended by Raphael Varane inside the box.

Griezmann had missed his previous two penalties against Real, including in last year's Champions League final.  

This time the French international found the net, albeit with a bit of fortune as Navas got a hand to his mishit spot-kick but couldn't keep it out.  

Fierce challenges then rained in from both sides as Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir struggled to keep control, with five players booked inside the opening 37 minutes.

However, Real regained their composure to get the vital away goal they needed for some extra breathing space just before half-time.  

Karim Benzema somehow escaped the attention of three Atletico defenders on the by-line and cut the ball back for Toni Kroos.  

Oblak made another brilliant stop to deny the German, but Isco followed up from close range to bundle the ball home.    

Ronaldo had scored eight times in his previous three Champions League appearances, however, the closest the World Player of the Year came to adding to his record 21 goals against Atletico was a driven free-kick at the start of the second half that was beaten away by Oblak.

Atletico had their chances to put the tie back on a knife-edge as Navas produced an incredible double save from Yannick Carrasco and Kevin Gameiro.    

The Costa Rican then got down low to his right to turn behind Griezmann's low volley and Gameiro failed to turn home another great opportunity from point-blank range.

A torrential thunder storm disrupted the final stages, but lightning has now struck four times for Atletico against Real and Zidane's side will head to Cardiff seeking a 12th European Cup against his former club.

By Kieran Canning / AFP

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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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