Spain approaching Morocco with ‘eyes open’, says Hierro

Spain coach Fernando Hierro said Sunday his players would not make the mistake of underestimating a Morocco side playing for pride in their World Cup Group B decider in Kaliningrad.

Spain approaching Morocco with 'eyes open', says Hierro
Photo: AFP

Spain need a result from Monday's encounter and Hierro vowed his players would not take the North Africans lightly.   

“We know that Morocco is an excellent team,” he told reporters.   

“We cant afford to relax… We need to be awake with our eyes open and be aware that Morocco aren't going to give anything away.”   

The 2010 winners drew their opener 3-3 with European champions Portugal and, after making hard work of a narrow 1-0 win over Iran, they need at least a point to make the last 16 for the first time since that tournament.   

“It's always tough against teams who are eliminated,” Hierro said. “Mathematically we have not yet qualified and we have to give the match the importance it deserves.”

Morocco were the first team eliminated from Russia but coach Herve Renard on Sunday claimed his side had been on the wrong end of several refereeing decisions during successive 1-0 losses.

“When you look at the facts in the Portugal game, it's totally unfair,” Renard said.

“For the goal we conceded, there was an obvious foul by (defender) Pepe at the front post. Why did (the referee) not see it?   

“It's unfair that we're already eliminated but we have to accept reality.”   

Spain midfielder Sergio Busquets said he had some sympathy.   

“Often football is not fair,” he told reporters. “It's true that at the level they've been playing they deserve more than zero points. But it's hard to win matches at this World Cup.”

'Not focused on past'

Spain dominated the international game for nearly a decade, winning an unprecedented Euro and World Cup treble between 2008-2012 with their brand of high-tempo, possession-based play anchored by the legendary Barcelona linchpin Xavi.

But a new generation of playmakers are making their World Cup bow this time around, including young Real Madrid trio Isco, Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio.   

Hierro singled out Isco for praise after the midfielder's impressive performances against Portugal and Iran.

“Isco always contributes with his quality and hardwork, he's good one on one, he can sneak between lines and he's hard to pin down,” said Hierro, himself a Real alumnus.

Depending on the Portugal result, a win or draw Monday would see Spain play either Russia or Uruguay from Group A in the second round — their first World Cup knockout game since winning the final in Johannesburg eight years ago.

The build-up this time around was chaotic, with Hierro only given the head coach role two days before the Portugal tie after Julen Lopetegui's spectacular sacking.

Hierro said the squad were focused and eager to go far in the tournament after Spain's disastrous first-round exit four years ago in Brazil.   

“You could focus on what happened four years ago or eight years ago,” he said.

“These lads have been world and European champions. We're not focusing on the past, now is the time to fight to win our group.”

By AFP's Patrick Galey

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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.