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Karim Benzema wins Ballon d’Or after fantastic year with Real Madrid

Karim Benzema wins Ballon d'Or
This combination of photos shows Real Madrid’s France forward Karim Benzema and Barcelona’s Alexia Putellas posing with their Ballon d’Or award at Chatelet Theatre, Paris, France on Monday. — AFP

PARIS, October 18: France striker Karim Benzema won the Ballon d’Or at a ceremony in Paris on Monday, the reward coming after his stunning performances helped Real Madrid win the Champions League and La Liga last season.
Benzema, who is the first French winner of the most prestigious individual prize in football since Zinedine Zidane in 1998, scored 44 goals in 46 games for his club including 15 in the Champions League.
Benzema, who also won the UEFA Nations League with France last season, pushed Bayern Munich and Senegal star Sadio Mane into second place.
Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City and Belgium was third, with Barcelona and Poland star Robert Lewandowski coming fourth.
Winning the award, which is given out by France Football magazine, caps a remarkable career revival for Benzema, who was frozen out of the France team for five and a half years because of his involvement in a blackmail scandal over a sextape involving teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
He was later handed a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 75,000 euros ($73,848) for his involvement in the affair.
However, he returned to the national team for last year’s European Championship and will now go to the World Cup in Qatar with France next month.
He will turn 35 on December 19, the day after the World Cup final.
Benzema is the oldest winner of the Ballon d’Or since the very first winner, Stanley Matthews in 1956.
The former Lyon striker is also the fifth Frenchman to win the prize, with Raymond Kopa, Michel Platini and Jean-Pierre Papin all getting their hands on the trophy before Zidane’s victory in 1998.
Alexia Putellas wins second successive women’s Ballon d’Or
Spain’s Alexia Putellas won the women’s Ballon d’Or for the second year running on Monday, the reward coming after a season in which she was the top scorer as her club Barcelona reached the Champions League final.
The 28-year-old Putellas saw off stiff competition, notably from three stars of the England team that won the European Championship, to take the award following a campaign which also saw Barcelona win a domestic league and cup double.
The prize, awarded at a star-studded ceremony at the Chatelet Theatre in central Paris, is a consolation for Putellas who is currently recovering from a serious knee injury.
The injury saw her miss the Euro in England in July and means she is unlikely to play at all this season.
Putellas scored 11 goals in the Champions League last season as holders Barcelona reached the final but lost to Lyon.
It is just the fourth time that a women’s Ballon d’Or has been awarded, with Norway’s Ada Hegerberg winning the inaugural prize in 2018 before United States superstar Megan Rapinoe succeeded her in 2019.
There was no Ballon d’Or gala in 2020 due to the pandemic before Putellas won it for the first time last year after helping Barca to Women’s Champions League glory for the first time in their history.
Putellas had already won the UEFA player of the year prize in August.
While Karim Benzema of Real Madrid is the overwhelming favourite to win the men’s prize later, the identity of the women’s winner appeared far less certain.
Beth Mead had been a leading contender after scoring six goals for England on their run to Euro glory on home soil, their first major tournament victory.
Her England teammates Lucy Bronze and Millie Bright had also been nominated, as had Hegerberg, who helped Lyon beat Barcelona in the Champions League final. (AFP)

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