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Messi scores Ballon d'Or hat-trick
Argentina and Barca forward wins World Player award for the third year running as Pep Guardiola scoops coaching gong.
Last Modified: 10 Jan 2012 05:08
Guardiola earlier compared 24-year-old Messi to legends such as Pele, Diego Maradona and Alfredo di Stefano [EPA] 

Already judged one of football's all-time greats at just 24, Lionel Messi unsurprisingly extended his reign as the world's best player for a third year on Monday.

The Barcelona and Argentina forward received the FIFA Ballon d'Or award for 2011, beating his club teammate Xavi Hernandez and Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid to the game's most prestigious individual honour.

"It's a huge pleasure for me,'' Messi said, after accepting the trophy from another three-time winner, former Brazil forward Ronaldo.

"It's the third time I get this award, and it's a huge honour.''

Inspiration

Messi's prolific scoring and unselfish creative play inspired Barcelona to win five trophies last year including the Champions League, Spanish League and Club World Cup.

Messi is the first man to win three straight FIFA world player awards in the honour’s 21-year history. Zinedine Zidane of France also won three FIFA player awards.

Messi received 47.88 per cent of the points in votes cast by national team coaches and captains plus invited journalists. They chose from an original shortlist of 23 players.

Cristiano Ronaldo finished second with 21.6 per cent and Xavi got 9.23 per cent 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 their great rival Madrid in the men's coaching award.

Pep Guardiola beat rival Mourinho to scoop coach of the year award [GALLO/GETTY]

Barca's Pep Guardiola was chosen ahead of Madrid's Jose Mourinho and Alex Ferguson of Manchester United.

Mourinho and Ronaldo did not attend, as Madrid play a Spanish Cup match on Tuesday in Malaga.

In the women's award, Homare Sawa of Japan ended Brazil forward Marta's five-year rule as the world's best player. Abby Wambach of the United States was also shortlisted.

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 classed alongside legends such as Pele, Diego Maradona and Alfredo di Stefano.

"Now he can sit beside them. It's a huge award, no?'' Guardiola said.

FIFA's world player honour merged last year with the Ballon d'Or trophy awarded by France Football magazine since 1956.

Elite group

Messi joins 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. Netherlands forwards Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten also received three Ballons d'Or in their careers.

Before starting his victory streak, Messi was runner-up twice behind Brazil's Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, respectively.

Messi was outscored by Ronaldo in the Spanish League last season - 40 to 31 - but elevated his game to a higher level in the biggest matches.

He scored twice, including a sublime individual effort, against Madrid in a bad-tempered Champions League semi-final, first-leg match, and struck with a perfectly placed shot to help Barcelona beat Man United 3-1 in the final.

Xavi described his gifted teammate as "one of the best footballers in the history of the sport.''

"He's still young. I think he's probably going to break all the records that exist in the sport,'' Xavi said.

Source:
AP
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