Argentina’s Lionel Messi collected the FIFA Ballon d’Or, his third consecutive title while Japan’s Homare Sawa claimed her first FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year award at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala held at the Zurich Kongresshaus this evening.

Pep Guardiola, the Spanish coach of FC Barcelona, and Japan’s women’s national team coach Norio Sasaki were the respective winners of the FIFA World Coach of the Year for Men’s Football and FIFA World Coach of the Year for Women’s Football.

Messi’s and Guardiola’s FC Barcelona side concluded 2011 with victory in the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, sealing another fine year which also included the UEFA Champions League, La Liga, Spanish Super Cup and UEFA Super Cup titles.

Japan’s women’s team, known as the Nadeshiko, memorably claimed their maiden FIFA Women’s World Cup with a thrilling performance, twice coming back from behind to eventually defeat the USA on penalties after extra time.

These awards were decided after a poll in which the captains and head coaches of the men’s (for the two men’s football awards) and women’s (for the two women’s football awards) national teams, as well as international media representatives selected by French football magazine France Football, voted for candidates in each of the four categories. Each group’s votes represented one third of the final result.

It was an unforgettable night, with many former and current football stars on the stage and on the red carpet. The international audience were entertained by Swiss music group TinkaBelle and British singer/songwriter James Blunt.

The FIFA Ballon d’Or was awarded for the second time tonight, following the amalgamation of the FIFA World Player of the Year award with the France Football Ballon d’Or in 2010.

Lionel Messi won the FIFA Ballon d’Or after polling 47.88 of the votes, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo (21.6)%) and Xavi (9.23%).

Sawa, winner of the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year award, led Japan to the title at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 in Germany, where she also won the adidas Golden Ball as the best player of the competition and the adidas Golden Boot for her five goals. She collected 28.51% of the votes, ahead of Brazil’s Marta and Abby Wambach from the USA, who received 17.28% and 13.26% respectively.

Pep Guardiola secured the FIFA World Coach of the Year for Men’s Football award with 41.92% of the votes, ahead of Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson, who received 15.61%, and Jose Mourinho, the Portuguese coach of Real Madrid (12.43%).

Meanwhile, Norio Sasaki led the FIFA World Coach of the Year for Women’s Football category with 45.57% of the votes, ahead of Pia Sundhage, the Swedish coach of the USA women’s national team (15.83%), and France’s women’s team coach Bruno Bini (10.28%).

FIFPro, the world players’ union, had invited 50,000 professional players from all over the world to select their best team of 2011, the FIFA/FIFPro WORLD XI. The honours went to the following all-star squad: Iker Casillas (Spain) in goal; Dani Alves (Brazil), Gerard Piqué (Spain), Sergio Ramos (Spain) and Nemanja Vidic (Serbia) in defence; Xabi Alonso (Spain), Andrés Iniesta (Spain) and Xavi (Spain) in midfield; and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Lionel Messi (Argentina) and Wayne Rooney (England) up front.

The FIFA Puskás Award for the “most beautiful goal” of the year as voted for on and by more than 1.5 million fans was also handed out. This prize, created in honour and in memory of Ferenc Puskás, the captain and star of the Hungarian national team during the 1950s, went to Brazil’s Neymar for his fantastic goal in the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A match between Santos FC and Flamengo in São Paulo on 27 July 2011.

Sir Alex Ferguson received the FIFA Presidential Award from President Joseph S. Blatter for his outstanding dedication, commitment and service to football. On 6 November 2011 Sir Alex Ferguson completed 25 years as manager of Manchester United. During that period the club have won over 30 different trophies, including 12 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, two UEFA Champions Leagues and the FIFA Club World Cup.

The FIFA Fair Play Award was given to the Japan women’s team, who had to endure many hardships following the earthquake which struck their country in March 2011, and during which many people lost their lives. The team showed great courage to make it to the final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011, ultimately lifting the trophy for the first time. The award was collected by the President of the Japan FA, Junji Ogura, and by the captain of the team, Homare Sawa.

Simone Farina was recognised on stage for his courage in denouncing an attempt to get him to fix a match. The player of Serie B club AS Gubbio in Italy was complimented by the FIFA President for his action and applauded by the audience.

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