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FOOTBALL

Two own-goals help Barça take charge of quarter-final against Roma

Barcelona can start planning for the Champions League semi-finals but their 4-1 win over Roma on Wednesday will not necessarily have rivals quivering in their boots.

Two own-goals help Barça take charge of quarter-final against Roma
Photo: AFP

Barcelona can start planning for the Champions League semi-finals but their 4-1 win over Roma on Wednesday will not necessarily have rivals quivering in their boots.

Two own-goals, from Daniele De Rossi and Kostas Manolas, and a close-range finish from Gerard Pique, presented the Catalans with a flattering 3-0 advantage at the Camp Nou before Edin Dzeko snatched Roma a late away goal.   

But, just as the Italians looked to have grabbed a lifeline, Luis Suarez restored the three-goal cushion, by scoring a fourth in the 87th minute.    

It means Barça will head to Italy next week with a place in the last four firmly in their grasp but this was not a virtuouso attacking display.   

Instead, they benefited from two fortuitous own goals and some careless Roma finishing. Ernesto Valverde's side are unlikely to meet as generous an opponent in the semis.

“It would have been better had we not conceded a goal, but we can't complain. We have a good lead, and now we need to rest up and prepare for the match against Leganes (on Saturday in La Liga) and then the second leg,” Pique told beIN Sports Spain.

“Roma are a good team and they stood up to us well. They play good football, maybe more defensively than we thought but they tried to hit us on the break.”

After Cristiano Ronaldo's spectacular bicycle kick for Real Madrid on Tuesday, even Lionel Messi, back from injury here, endured a slightly frustrating night, his shots and dribbles for once meeting opponents rather
than the net.

Messi returned to the starting line-up after recovering from his hamstring complaint, as did Sergio Busquets, back after breaking his toe against Chelsea three weeks ago.

Roma's own midfield enforcer Radja Nainggolan was missing with a hamstring strain.

Barça struggled for fluency in the first half, with Roma's nine-man defensive action largely successful in channelling their opponents' attacks down the centre, where the visitors were able to tackle, block and contain the space.

The only real early threat from Barça came through Ivan Rakitic's cross-shot, which curved without a touch all the way through to the far post, which it struck and bounced out.

Roma denied penalty

By then, Roma were unfortunate not to have had a penalty as Dzeko nipped in front of Nelson Semedo, who pushed the attacker in the back. Referee Danny Makkelie, however, was unmoved.

“The referee had to have the courage to award that penalty against Barcelona. If they gave us that penalty, the game would have changed. We too are in the quarter-finals and deserve respect,” a fuming Dzeko told Italian television.

Instead, it was Barça who enjoyed the rub of the green when De Rossi attempted to cut out Andres Iniesta's pass to Messi. Facing goal, his leaping slide connected too well with the ball, which he stabbed past Alisson Becker and into his own net.

Stodgy in the first half, Barça were sloppy at the start of the second as Semedo allowed Diego Perotti a free header at the back post and then Samuel Umtiti could have been punished for a moment of indecision in his own six-yard box.

But Roma were blunt in attack and they paid the price. In the 55th minute, a skimming cross from Rakitic was met by Umtiti five yards out and while his finish came back off the post, the ball deflected off Manolas and in.

Four minutes later, it was 3-0. Messi's bending pass allowed Suarez a shot at goal and Alisson's parry fell at the feet of Pique, who side-footed home.   

Roma looked to have found a way back into the contest when Dzeko nipped in to convert Perotti's cross but Suarez secured the victory and perhaps the tie.   

His namesake Denis Suarez supplied the cross and as the ball spilled loose, the Uruguayan needed no second invitation to find the net.

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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