Lionel Messi wins Ballon d'Or
ZURICH -- Already considered one of soccer's greats at age 24, Lionel Messi was named FIFA's player of the year on Monday, making him a three-time winner of the award.
The Barcelona and Argentina forward received the FIFA Ballon d'Or award for 2011, winning out over club teammate Xavi Hernandez and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo for the sport's top individual honor.
"It's a huge pleasure for me," Messi said, after accepting the trophy from another three-time winner, retired Brazilian forward Ronaldo. "It's the third time I get this award, and it's a huge honor."
The only other three-time winners are Ronaldo (1996-97 and 2002) and Zinedine Zidane (1998, 2000 and 2003). The FIFA award was renamed last year, when it merged with France Football's Golden Ball.
Messi scored 55 goals in 2011 for Barcelona, which won its third Champions League title in six seasons, and he had four goals for Argentina's national team. Barcelona won five trophies last year.
Messi received 47.88 percent of the points in votes cast by national team coaches and captains plus selected reporters. Cristiano Ronaldo finished second with 21.6 percent and Xavi got 9.23 percent to finish third for the third straight year.
"This one is very special because I want to share this with my friend and teammate Xavi. He deserves it," Messi said.
On a night of Barcelona dominance, the Catalan club inflicted another defeat on its great rival Madrid in the men's coach of the year award.
Barca's Pep Guardiola was chosen ahead of Madrid's Jose Mourinho and Manchester United's Alex Ferguson. Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo did not attend, as Madrid plays a Spanish Cup match Tuesday in Malaga.
In the women's award, Homare Sawa of Japan ended Brazilian forward Marta's five-year reign as the top player. American Abby Wambach was a finalist.
Sawa led Japan to win the 2011 Women's World Cup and adds the FIFA prize to her tournament best player and top scorer trophies.
A major international tournament victory is all that now eludes Messi.
Guardiola and Ferguson agreed at an earlier news conference that Messi should be considered alongside Pele, Diego Maradona and Alfredo di Stefano.
"Now he can sit beside them. It's a huge award, no?" Guardiola said.
Messi joined Michel Platini winning the Ballon d'Or for three consecutive years, though the France great won from 1983-85 when only European players were eligible. Dutch forwards Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten also received three Ballon d'Or awards in their careers.
Neymar was voted the Puskas Award for the goal of the year, winning fan voting for a solo run for Santos through the Flamengo defense. The other finalists were Manchester United's Wayne Rooney for his bicycle kick in a Premier League match against Manchester City and Messi for his goal against Arsenal in a second-round, second-leg Champions League match.
The Japan Football Association received FIFA's Fair Play award for its response to the earthquake and tsunami last March.
All three Ballon d'Or nominees were part of the 2011 all-star lineup chosen by the FIFPro group of players' unions comprising 50,000 members worldwide. They selected a team entirely of Barcelona, Madrid and Manchester United players:
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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