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ZURICH – Lionel Messi is again officially the best in the world.
The Argentine midfielder was named the winner of the 2011 FIFA Ballon d’Or at a gala celebration in Zurich, Switzerland on Jan. 9.
For Messi, it was his third consecutive Player of the Year honor, tying him with former French star Michel Platini (1983-1985) as the only players to win the Ballon d’Or three straight years. Frenchman Zinedine Zidane also claimed the FIFA Player of the Year award on three separate occasions (1998, 2000 and 2003), as did Brazil’s Ronaldo (1996-97, 2002). Dutch forwards Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten also have won the award three times.
“I hope I can keep on performing like this and win more team titles, which is what you need to make it to wonderful occasions like this,” Messi told reporters. “I want to achieve things with my national team and keep playing the way I am. I’m very proud to have won it three times, especially one after the other. It’s hard to win one, let alone three. I’m very happy and this award gives me as much pleasure as the first.”
Messi, who earned 47.88% of the vote, beat Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo (21.6%) and Spain’s Xavi (9.23%).
Twenty-three nominees vied for the award.
Messi, 24, finished with 53 goals and 24 assists over 55 games for FC Barcelona, which won titles in the Champions League, La Liga, FIFA World Cup and UEFA Super Cup during the calendar year. The team finished second in the Copa del Rey.
“He’s one of the best footballers in the history of the sport,” Barcelona teammate Xavi told reporters. “He’s still young. I think he’s probably going to break all the records that exist in the sport.”
But Xavi isn’t the only one to think highly of Messi.
“There’s no question he’s the best player in the world right now,” Brazilian legend Ronaldo told reporters.
Even Platini couldn’t help tipping his cap.
“When Ronaldinho won his first Ballon d’Or [in 2005], I said: ‘He’s going to win a lot more, this guy.’ And he didn’t win any more after that,” Platini told reporters. “But Messi is the whole package.”
Also at the awards ceremony, Brazilian striker Marta lost out to Japanese star Homare Sawa for the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year trophy. Marta had won the recognition five consecutive times.
FC Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola was named Men’s FIFA World Coach of the Year, while Japan’s Norio Sasaki claimed the honor on the women’s side.
And don’t think Messi isn’t already targeting a fourth straight Ballon d’Or. He already has 31 goals and 14 assists through just 28 games and is poised to guide his team to a repeat as champions for every major trophy.
“The objective now is the same as the start of every year: to try and do it all over again,” Messi told reporters. “We know it’s getting more and more difficult though.”
Neymar scores ‘Goal of the Year’
No player on the planet scored a better goal than Neymar this season – at least according to the fans.
The Santos striker not only delighted his team’s fans by netting a breathtaking goal against Flamengo on July 27, but he also impressed soccer enthusiasts across the globe to earn the 2011 FIFA Puskas Award for Goal of the Year.
Neymar’s score topped tallies by Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Wayne Rooney of Manchester United that were voted on by more than 3.2 million fans.
Neymar earned a nod from more than 1.3 million of those supporters.
“I am so happy to be part of this party and to be competing with these two great players,” the 19-year-old Brazilian said. “I’m very grateful to God and to all of you.”
In the goal that captured the globe’s imagination, Neymar began by tapping the ball around two defenders before exchanging passes with a midfielder just outside the penalty box. After recovering the ball he proceeded to dribble around one player before popping the ball around the center back. Neymar then slid himself past the left back to poke the ball home by a sprawling goalie.
“I think it’s the best goal I’ve ever scored,” Neymar told reporters. “I managed to wriggle clear of two more opponents and put the ball away. It was just about the perfect move.”
Ginóbili sidelined with hand injury
Argentine Manu Ginóbili is sidelined again.
The guard who plays for the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) San Antonio Spurs will miss the next six to eight weeks after recently breaking a bone in his left (shooting) hand. Ginóbili was averaging 17.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3 assists per game after appearing in just five games as part of the NBA’s shortened season due to a labor dispute.
“Tmrw I’ll have a plate & screws on my beloved left hand. Not thrilled. I’ll keep u posted. Thank u all!,” Ginóbili tweeted.
Ginóbili has battled various injuries in his career, including damage to his ankle and back. Without him, the Spurs will be forced to change their offense and try to compensate for the unexpected loss of their star.
The Spurs were 6-3 entering their game against the Milwaukee Bucks (2-6) on Jan. 10.
More importantly, however, Argentina isn’t in danger of its top player’s missing the 2012 Olympics in London in August.
“I know he will be well and in one month and a half or two months, this will be history,” Argentina national team doctor Diego Grippo told reporters. “We will see him play and get ready for the last part of the league, which is the most important thing. Then, we will have him for the games with more rhythm.”