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FOOTBALL

Real Madrid misery after Villarreal’s first win at Bernabeu

Struggling Real Madrid risk falling further behind in La Liga after a cheeky late chip from Pablo Fornals saw Villarreal escape with a 1-0 win on Saturday, their first ever victory at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Real Madrid misery after Villarreal's first win at Bernabeu
Photo: AFP

Fornals struck with three minutes left to leave Zinedine Zidane's wasteful side fourth and a whopping 16 points behind runaway league leaders Barcelona, a deficit which will turn into 19 should Barca win at Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Compounding Real's misery is the 10-point gap separating them from second-placed local rivals Atletico Madrid, who moved up to 42 points and within six of Barca after winning 1-0 at Eibar thanks to Kevin Gameiro's 27th-minute strike.

Atletico survived a stoppage-time scare when Augusto Fernandez handled the ball during a goalmouth scramble but went unpunished by the referee.

Real are also eight points adrift of Valencia, who strengthened their grip on third place as goals from Goncalo Guedes and Rodrigo secured a 2-1 win at struggling Deportivo La Coruna.

“We didn't deserve to lose. We had the better chances but the ball did not want to go in,” said under-fire Zidane after Real's second straight home league defeat.

Villarreal meanwhile move up to fifth on 31 points thanks to midfielder Fornals' stunning goal, which puts Javier Calleja's side just a point behind off-form Madrid in the race for the Champions League places.

Real fired off nearly 30 shots but their accuracy was wayward, with Cristiano Ronaldo among the worst culprits in front of goal.

“We did everything we could and there is no explanation for why the ball didn't go in,” added Zidane, who signed a new contract to keep him at Real until 2020 earlier this week.

“I can't criticise my players for anything. This is a bad spell, nothing more.”

So often Real's saviour, Ronaldo had a bad day at the office, with his worst miss coming just before half-time, when the five-time Ballon d'Or winner managed to shoot straight at Sergio Asenjo after being laid on by Isco in front of a practically open goal just yards out.

The Portuguese was livid with the referee, as he thought that he was tripped by Daniele Bonera just before he shot.

Real carried on where they left off in the second period, but after failing to break down the resolute visitors, Fornals stepped up to make history and pile the pressure on Zidane.

Fornals clipped home his 87th-minute winner just after it looked like Enes Unal had fluffed his team's chance to snatch the three points after a blistering counter-attack following a Real Madrid corner.

Turk Unal shot straight at Keylor Navas when put through by Denis Cheryshev, but with Navas still recovering from making the save Fornals lifted the ball over the flailing Madrid stopper.

“You're always happy when you get three points at such a difficult ground,” said Calleja afterwards.

“We knew we could make history today, we believed.”

READ ALSO: Accused of fraud, Real Madrid's Modric pays €1 million

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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