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FOOTBALL

Luis Enrique hails the perfect start as Spain boss

Luis Enrique described it as the perfect start after Spain backed up their win over England with a 6-0 demolition of Croatia on Tuesday.

Luis Enrique hails the perfect start as Spain boss
Photo: AFP

Spain were three up at half-time against the World Cup runners-up thanks to Marco Asensio's two long-range strikes, the second going in off goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic, and an early header from Saul Niguez.

Asensio then laid on three more goals in the second half as Rodrigo Moreno, Sergio Ramos and Isco completed a statement victory in Elche.   

Luis Enrique took charge after the humiliating exit to Russia at the World Cup had left Spain doubting the possession game that won them three consecutive major tournaments between 2008 and 2012.

He promised evolution, not revolution, and while his team still dominated possession, they were faster, more direct and less predictable in the final third.

Beating two of the World Cup's semi-finalists in four days leaves Spain top of League A's Group Two in the Nations League.    

But, perhaps more importantly, it should also give the players belief in Luis Enrique's methods.

“It would be very easy to say that this is my Spain, generating many chances and conceding few goals, but the truth is that I am changing things very fast,” Luis Enrique said.   

“This week everything was perfect.”   

Asensio was the star of the show but Saul, so impressive against England, shone again, alongside the talented 23-year-old Dani Ceballos in midfield.   

Spain were barely recognisable from the team that failed to break down Russia in the last 16 but it should also be said they put six past Argentina, under Julen Lopetegui, in March. There is work still to do.

“Comparisons with the World Cup and tonight do not make sense,” Luis Enrique said. “Today we were very effective and everything went wonderfully well. They had an early chance, they didn't take it and then we played brilliantly and scored some great goals.”

Croatia's Ivan Santini was guilty of missing early on but once Spain pulled ahead, the visitors crumbled.

Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, so dominant at the World Cup, never took control while defensively, without Dejan Lovren, the mistakes kept coming.   

“We cannot cry about it, we have to improve,” coach Zlatko Dalic said.   

“What happened has happened, all their chances have gone in and it is better that it happened today than later.   

“After the first goal we were not so focused, we tried to do things too fast and started to abandon the system.

“That is not a solution against Spain, who plays well at home, who likes to dominate the ball. After the second goal, the match was over for us.”

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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