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FOOTBALL

Messi hat-trick helps Barcelona equal record unbeaten streak

Barcelona equalled the record longest unbeaten run in La Liga history as a Lionel Messi hat-trick inspired the runaway leaders to a 3-1 win over Leganes on Saturday to make it 38 league games unbeaten.

Messi hat-trick helps Barcelona equal record unbeaten streak
Barcelona forward Lionel Messi (C) celebrates after scoring a goal during the Spanish league football match between Barcelona and Leganes at the Camp Nou stadium on Saturday. PHOTO: JOSEP LAGO / AFP
The Catalan giants will look to break the record that Real Sociedad set in 1979-80 when they host Valencia next weekend, with Ernesto Valverde's side now just seven matches from becoming the first La Liga side to go through a campaign without tasting defeat.
 
Messi was the star of the show at the Camp Nou with a magnificent treble, as Barca stretched their lead at the top to 12 points ahead of second-placed Atletico Madrid's derby against Real Madrid on Sunday.
 
Coach Valverde named a strong side despite having a Champions League quarter-final, second leg on Tuesday at Roma, with Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho all starting.
 
Suarez passed up two good early chances to put Barca ahead, prodding wide and then seeing visiting goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar deny him with an excellent save.
 
But the hosts moved in front in the 27th minute through a trademark Messi free-kick. The Argentinian stepped up and curled the ball over the ball and into the bottom corner from 25 yards out to score his 27th league goal of the season. It didn't take the 30-year-old long to double his tally for the day, latching onto Coutinho's through ball and firing low into the corner.
 
Barcelona eased off in the second half, perhaps with the midweek clash at the Stadio Olimpico on their minds, and Leganes hit back midway through the second half. Former Liverpool winger Nabil El Zhar cut inside and fired into the bottom corner from the edge of the box despite slipping as he shot.
 
But the home side finished off the match as a contest late on with Messi completing his third hat-trick of the season in style. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner chested down Ousmane Dembele's pass and dinked the ball over Cuellar with consummate ease.
 
Barca will now turn their attentions to avoiding a disaster in Italy as they defend a 4-1 first-leg lead, still bidding to complete the treble with a Copa del Rey final against Sevilla to come in a fortnight's time.
 
Earlier on Saturday, Sevilla's hopes of qualifying for Europe next season took a hit with a 4-0 thumping at Celta Vigo. Vincenzo Montella's side were taken apart by former striker Iago Aspas' hat-trick, as the ex-Liverpool man strengthened his claim for a place in Spain's World Cup squad.
 
Sevilla face Bayern Munich on Wednesday's at the Allianz Arena needing to overturn a 2-1 deficit to reach the Champions League semi-finals. 
 
Real Betis moved up to fifth with a fourth straight win as they saw off Eibar 2-0, while Alaves all but secured safety by beating Getafe.
 
 

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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