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FOOTBALL

Hierro relieved Spain survived tough Iran test

Spain coach Fernando Hierro admitted his team had been on the ropes before a lucky Diego Costa goal handed them their first win of the World Cup on Wednesday as dogged Iran came close to causing a major upset.

Hierro relieved Spain survived tough Iran test

The victory in Kazan puts the 2010 winners on course for the last 16, but Iran had an equaliser disallowed for a narrow offside.   

“We have three points… but it was very difficult and complex game. Both halves were very tough,” said Hierro.   

“We started well, with good pace, but Iran are a very tough team, it's very difficult to score against them.”

Costa, who scored twice in a 3-3 opening draw with Portugal in Sochi, courted controversy early in the Group B encounter when he stepped on the toes of Iran 'keeper Ali Beiranvand.

His gesture went unpunished, and the Atletico Madrid striker required another stroke of luck on 54 minutes when his shot came off Ramin Rezaeian to beat Beiranvand after he had been sent through by Andres Iniesta.   

Just before the hour mark, the entire Iranian bench poured onto the pitch when Saeid Ezatolahi fired an equaliser for Iran.

But the thousands of Iranian supporters that filled the stadium with the sound of vuvuzelas throughout were left disappointed when it was ruled out for offside.

With three points from two matches, Iran still have a chance of qualifying if they can get a result against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal on Monday.

'Can be proud'

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz hailed the bravery of his side and pledged they would fight to make the last 16.

“We left the pitch 1-0 down, but we won respect. I'm sure the fans are proud of our team,” said Queiroz. 

“Our players can go home and sit with their family and friends and be proud of themselves.

“People gave us no chance, but we still have chances to qualify for the second round. We'll fight for our dreams.”   

Hierro welcomed Real Madrid's Dani Carvajal back into the starting line-up following his recovery from a hamstring injury suffered in the Champions League final win over Liverpool.

With Lucas Vazquez replacing Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke, it gave La Roja a distinctively Real Madrid feel.   

Costa got so frustrated with Iran's defensive tactics that he approached Beiranvand and provocatively stepped on his toes, leaving the 'keeper in visible pain.

It went unpunished by Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha, who had awarded France a historic first VAR-assisted penalty to France in their 2-1 win over Australia.   

Spain resumed in more positive fashion after the break, Beiranvand forced to produce heroics twice in the space of four minutes.

But Iran refused to buckle, coming close in the final minutes when midfielder Mehdi Taremi headed just over.

Shortly after the restart an Isco corner was flicked on by Costa to Gerard Pique but his effort was cleared off the line.   

Sergio Busquets' drive from 20 yards was then parried by Beiranvand, who palmed the rebound away before Lucas Vazquez could pounce.   

Some great vision from Iniesta, and a slice of luck, broke Iranian hearts when Costa spun and latched on to the ball before seeing his shot rebound off Ramin Rezaeian and into the net.

Spain, however, were still flattering to deceive.   On a rare Iranian counter-attack, goalkeeper David De Gea was left irate when Taremi was left to head a metre wide.

Moments later, the stadium erupted when Ezatolahi fired through a packed Spain area to beat De Gea, but the assistant referee's flag was up.   

In the final quarter hour Iran battled for a late equaliser, but after Vahid Amiri nutmegged Pique and fired over an inviting cross, Taremi's thundering header flew just over the bar.

By AFP''sJustin Davis 

 

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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