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FOOTBALL

Tottenham and Liverpool chase biggest win of all to drop loser tag for good

Among the rewards for the Champions League winners on Saturday will be silverware, status and history but the greatest prize awaiting Liverpool or Tottenham might be an end to the agonising wait.

Tottenham and Liverpool chase biggest win of all to drop loser tag for good
The Wanda Stadium is almost ready. Photo: AFP

Combined, it has been 18 years – seven for Liverpool, 11 for Tottenham – since either lifted a trophy, despite huge strides made in recent years under the much-praised Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino. 

Klopp and Pochettino have been singled-out as two of Europe's best coaches after crafting teams that reflect their personalities — Liverpool thrilling and fearless, Spurs brave and unrelenting.

And while scepticism has greeted the perfection of Manchester City's star-studded squad in England, approval has also followed Liverpool and Tottenham's nurturing of youngsters. 

Trent Alexander-Arnold and Harry Winks came through the clubs' youth systems while Andrew Robertson, Dele Alli and Kieran Trippier joined aged 24 or younger. All of them could start at the Wanda Metropolitano.

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But any admiration still comes with an asterisk. Liverpool's last trophy was in 2012, a League Cup that remains their only success since they won the FA Cup in 2006. 

And Tottenham's barren spell goes further back to the League Cup in 2008, which was their first trophy since winning the same competition in 1999.    

Pochettino has tended to bristle at suggestions his team have a habit for coming close but failing to get over the line.    

When asked in January if the club needed a trophy, he said: “I don't agree with that, it's good for the ego. But in reality the most important thing is to build a team that is always going to be in the top four.” 

The expectations are higher at Liverpool, where Klopp's vow to win something within four years of taking charge reaches its end-point this weekend.

“It didn't happen yet,” said Klopp in April. “How long it will take I have no clue.”

Klopp's also denied a personal need for silverware after having lost six cup finals in a row as coach, three of them with Liverpool.    

“I don't think that way at all,” he said earlier this month. “In football if you want to win you have to accept that there are occasions when you also might lose.”

Falling short

The pressure on Liverpool may be more intense, not just because of their success-laden past but because of a craving for satisfaction after a season in which they amassed 96 points in the Premier League but still fell just short of champions City.

They will be favourites, having beaten Tottenham home and away already this season and with their experience of last year's final in Kiev. In the Spurs squad, only Toby Alderweireld has played on this stage, losing with Atletico Madrid in 2014.

For a shot of belief, Pochettino might instead turn to Harry Kane, who has declared himself fit after recovering from an ankle injury.   

Kane has not played a competitive match since April 9 and Tottenham have survived without their star striker, even if a storming run in the Champions League belied a collapse in form domestically. 

If he is fit, Kane's goal threat means he will start, most likely at the expense of Lucas Moura, despite the Brazilian's dizzying hat-trick against Ajax in the semi-final. 

Liverpool's own front man, Roberto Firmino, is also expected to play after sitting out the last three matches with a groin strain.   

Harder to predict will be Klopp's selection in midfield, where he must choose three from James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho.

Considerably more than the 32,000 ticket-holding fans were predicted to descend on Madrid, with police deploying “unprecedented security” around the final, involving drones to monitor behaviour and 4,700 personnel.   

When the Spanish capital was picked as host, there was an added lure for Real Madrid, who might have defended the title in their own city, and Atletico, who could have snatched it off them at their own home ground.   

Instead, after Barcelona crashed out, Spain were left with no European finalists for the only second time in 10 years.   

A new era, perhaps, for the Premier League. For Liverpool and Tottenham, another chance to end the wait.

By AFP's Thomas Allnutt

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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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