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Ronaldo double puts Real Madrid on verge of title

Real Madrid moved to within one point of winning La Liga as Cristiano Ronaldo struck twice to beat Celta Vigo 4-1 on Wednesday.

Ronaldo double puts Real Madrid on verge of title
Photo: Miguel Riopa / AFP

The European champions lead Barcelona by three points at the top of the table and now need to just avoid defeat at Malaga on Sunday to secure their first league title in five years.

“We will go there to win the game,” insisted Ronaldo. “We are Real Madrid, we are the best and we want to be champions.”   

Once again Ronaldo made the difference as he took his tally to 13 goals in his last eight games with early strikes in each half.

Iago Aspas was then controversially sent-off when he saw a second yellow card for diving, but Celta halved the arrears through John Guidetti's deflected effort.

However, Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos rounded off the scoring to keep Madrid on course for a La Liga and Champions League double.    

“We played with incredible attitude and personality,” said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.

Ronaldo was starting his first La Liga game away from home for nearly two months as in contrast to recent weeks, Zidane didn't rotate his starting XI.   

The Frenchman went with the same side that withstood an Atletico Madrid revival to book their place in the Champions League final a week ago.  

And he was rewarded early on as Marcelo fed Isco and after he was dispossessed on the edge of the area, Ronaldo smashed the loose ball high into the net.

“He has managed things very well,” Ronaldo added on Zidane.    

“I feel good. Everything is decided in the final weeks of the season and I am doing well. I am scoring goals and helping the team.”  

Celta have now lost eight of their last nine La Liga games having concentrated on their run to the Europa League semi-finals that was ended by Manchester United last week.

However, they eliminated Madrid from the Copa del Rey earlier this season and put the European champions to the test once more.  

Daniel Wass stung the palms of Keylor Navas with a fiercely struck free-kick before Aspas fired just wide twice in quick succession.  

And Celta also had a penalty appeal waived away before the break when Raphael Varane handled inside his own area.    

“We scored early and then had 20 difficult minutes,” added Zidane.    

“In the second-half we controlled the game more because the first-half it was end-to-end which isn't our game.”  

Having soaked up that pressure, a deadly Real counter-attack doubled their advantage just three minutes into the second period.    

Isco was again the provider as he surged through the midfield before feeding Ronaldo to finish off the inside of the post.    

More controversy ensued moments later when referee Juan Martinez Munera showed Aspas a second yellow card for diving when he appeared to have been tripped by Sergio Ramos inside the area.

Despite their numerical disadvantage, Celta did manage to pull a goal back when Guidetti's effort deflected past the helpless Navas off Ramos.    

However, the visitors went straight up the other end and Marcelo's low cross was tapped home by Karim Benzema to restore Real's two-goal cushion.    

Ronaldo should have completed yet another hat-trick when he somehow managed to fire wide with the goal gaping before he was replaced with six minutes remaining.

Even without him, though, Madrid continued to stream forward and Kroos rounded off the scoring with a cool turn and finish two minutes from time. 

By Keiran 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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