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FOOTBALL

Sterling shines as England blow Spain away

Raheem Sterling scored twice as England delivered one of their finest victories of the modern era by beating Spain 3-2 in Seville on Monday.

Sterling shines as England blow Spain away

Away from home, and against a Spanish side in scintillating form under their new coach Luis Enrique, this was certainly England's best win under Gareth Southgate and, perhaps, their most impressive since thrashing Germany 5-1 in Munich in 2001. 

Marcus Rashford was the other scorer in a breathless opening 45 minutes, which witnessed Spain conceding three on home soil for the first time in their history.

“To play the way they did, this should be a great reference point for this team for the future,” Southgate said.

Paco Alcacer, on as a substitute, headed in before the hour to spark hopes of a comeback but England were home and dry by the time Sergio Ramos scored in the 98th minute, with the last action of the match.      

It means England keep alive their hopes of finishing top of Group 4 in the UEFA Nations League, the position Spain had needed only a point to all-but-guarantee would be theirs.

It was a night for streaks ending and records tumbling. Sterling's opening goal was his first in 1,102 days for England, even more remarkable given he added his second 22 minutes later. 

“The only thing we did say is when he scores he will score again,” Southgate said. “He managed to do so pretty quickly.”   

The last time England won away against Spain was 1987 — which was also when they last scored against Spain away from home, Gary Lineker on target.    

With an average age of just over 23, this was also the youngest England starting line-up in the 21st century. That will be the most exciting aspect for Southgate.

For Spain, Alcacer now has an astonishing 10 goals from his last 10 shots on target. But defeat represents something of a reality check. “Waving the flag for goals,” read Marca's front page on Monday. They had scored 12 in three games since Luis Enrique took charge. 

“Clearly it wasn't our night,” he said. “We have made mistakes on an individual level and their goals were medicine for them and poison for us.”   

But Eric Dier set the tone early on. He left Sergio Busquets, sluggish throughout, hopping out of his first pass and then slid through Ramos, who was also out of sorts.

After a frantic start, England settled and in the 13th minute, scored. 

Under pressure at the back, they kept the ball until the risk was too great and Jordan Pickford drove forward to Harry Kane. 

With Spain caught upfield, he was able to turn and find Rashford, whose quick switch set Sterling free. He finished into the top corner.    

“We are staying up,” sang the away support as Thiago Alcantara danced around England's midfield with flicks and tricks. But to little effect.    

Instead, Kane showed the value of a top-class centre forward for England's second. He outmuscled Ramos to win Pickford's punt downfield, outpaced Nacho to the loose ball with a superb reverse pass in behind. Rashford only had to finish. 

Spain's early confidence was gone and England added a third before the interval, which was greeted by whistles from the home fans.    

Ross Barkley's sumptuous ball over the top caught Ramos napping again and Kane squared for Sterling to tap in. “Are you Scotland in disguise?” came the taunt from the corner. 

Spain were sent out early for the second period, among them Alcacer, who replaced Saul. He scored with his first touch, heading in Marco Asensio's corner, given away after a fumble by Pickford. 

It was a nightmare few minutes for England's goalkeeper, who then dallied and was tackled by Rodrigo. 

Pickford scrambled the ball away but probably fouled Rodrigo in the process and Spain were adamant they deserved a penalty. The referee was not convinced.   

England played for time, with a handful of players going down injured, and Spain's pressure gradually eased. Rodrigo shot wide in the final 10 minutes.

Asensio went even closer.   

Marcos Alonso then deflected onto the bar deep into injury time and Ramos headed home in the 98th minute. But there was not even time for a restart. England's win was complete. 

By AFP's  Thomas Allnutt

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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