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FOOTBALL

Football: England sink Spain to close in on quarters

Fran Kirby and Jodie Taylor handed England a 2-0 win over Spain in a game marred by heavy rain in Breda on Sunday, to make it back-to-back victories at the women's Euro tournament.

Football: England sink Spain to close in on quarters
England's forward Ellen White (R) vies with Spain's forward Jennifer Hermoso. Photo: AFP

Earlier in the day, Carolina Mendes and substitute Ana Leite gave Portugal a 2-1 win over Scotland in a clash of Euro newcomers in Rotterdam.   

England are all but into the quarter-finals and sit at the Group D summit, having thrashed Scotland 6-0 in their opener.   

The second knock-out round spot is likely to go to Spain or Portugal, with the former the favourites as they take on bottom team Scotland in their final group game on Thursday.

The Scots appear destined for an early exit, and will have to beat Spain by two goals to have any chance of progressing.   

Chelsea striker Kirby picked up a pass from Ellie White in the second minute and stormed into the box, beating Spain keeper Sandra Panos with a low shot to score her seventh international goal.

Taylor scored her fourth goal in two games five minutes from the end, after a pass from Jordan Nobbs found her inside the box.   

“If you look at the overall picture, it's a fantastic performance and a really good result,” said England coach Mark Sampson.   

“Bloody damn happy. The spirit, the resilience, the grit… It was all there tonight.”

A frantic opening period saw England skipper Steph Houghton slam the ball over and Spain's Alexia Putellas send a weak shot straight at keeper Karen Bardsley.

It came to an end with a torrential downpour that dampened the pitch and slowed things down considerably with Spain on the front foot.

The second half was very much in the same vein as the rain returned — Spain dominated the game, pushing for an equaliser, but they never really came close as the soaked pitch hampered their play.

“We dominated the whole game but we weren't lucky,” said Spain coach Jorge Vilda.

“We are going to continue this way, I am confident about my team.”    

In Rotterdam, Mendes scored against the run of play on 27 minutes after a cross from Diana Silva which Scotland defender Vaila Barsley comically failed to clear.

Scottish substitute Erin Cuthbert put Scotland level in the 68th minute with a clinical finish after being put through by Caroline Weir.   

But Scotland's joy was short-lived as four minutes later, Leite sprinted down the middle and beat goalkeeper Gemma Fay with a low strike.    

“We are enjoying this moment – it is our first time,” said Portugal coach Francisco Neto, whose side will need to better Spain's result against Scotland when they face England on Thursday to reach the last eight.   

“We will try our best, but we know England are in the top three of European teams in the rankings. But Portugal will fight with everything we have, for sure.”

Portugal scored from their single shot in the first half, despite Scotland being more threatening up front, with Lana Clelland first firing wide and then seeing her shot tipped onto the post by keeper Patricia Morais.   

Scotland found themselves under pressure early in the second half, with Carole Costa and Tatiana Pinto firing wide, just like Weir and Leanne Crichton at the other end.

Mendes then sent her left-footed effort just past the post and Leite fired over, while Weir hit the upright five minutes from the end as Scotland desperately tried to salvage their campaign.

Scotland coach Anna Signeul bemoaned the missed first-half chances.    

“We should have been up 2-0 in the first half, but we could not put the ball in the net unfortunately, and then a counter and the ball takes that bounce off the defender and that was an unfortunate goal which put us on the back foot,” she said.

   By Jan Flemr / 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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