Messi wins FIFA Ballon d'Or

Lionel Messi was officially feted as the best soccer player in the world Monday, winning the FIFA Ballon d'Or award at a special gala in Zurich. The Argentine beat out fellow FC Barcelona teammates Andres Iniesta and Xavi to claim the honour.

Lionel Messi was officially feted as the best soccer player in the world Monday, winning the FIFA Ballon d'Or award at a special gala in Zurich.

Messi beat out fellow FC Barcelona teammates Andres Iniesta and Xavi, both of Spain, to claim the honour. The Argentine is the first repeat winner of the FIFA world player of the year award since Ronaldinho in 2004 and 2005.

"It's a very special day for me," Messi said through a translator.

Messi received 22.65 per cent of the votes cast by coaches and captains of national teams plus invited journalists in polling for the award. Iniesta finished second with 17.36 per cent and Xavi received 16.48 per cent.

Also on Monday, Brazilian Marta won her fifth consecutive FIFA women's world player of the year award ahead of Germany's Fatmire Bajramaj and Birgit Prinz. Canadian striker Christine Sinclair was among the 10 players nominated but didn't make the final three.

Jose Mourinho was named the best men's coach of 2010 after leading Inter Milan to a treble of titles, including the UEFA Champions League.

Messi played a starring role in Barcelona's La Liga campaign as the stylish Catalan club trumped eternal rivals Real Madrid to retain the Spanish league title.

That Barcelona was able to fend off the challenge of an equally impressive Real Madrid team was in no small part due to Messi, who scored an amazing 34 goals and won the Golden Shoe award as the top goal-scorer in all of Europe.

Messi and Barcelona fell short in the UEFA Champions League, European club soccer's greatest stage, as they were defeated by eventual winners Inter Milan in the semifinals. The Spanish outfit looked a sure bet to win its second consecutive Champions League crown, but Messi was comfortably contained by the Nerazzurri and couldn't prod his team toward the final.

He also under-whelmed with Argentina at the World Cup. After breezing through the first round, Argentina came crashing down to earth in a 4-0 loss to Germany in the quarter-finals.

Messi drew criticism for Argentina's failure and critics continued to hound him as to why he has been unable to duplicate his brilliant Barcelona form while wearing his national team's colours.

No matter, Messi is still one of the best players in the world — if not the best — and at only 23 years of age, he seems destined to eclipse the legend of countryman Diego Maradona, Argentina's most beloved sporting symbol.

"I didn't expect to win it today," Messi said. "Already it's a source of happiness to be here with my friends and even more to win it."

Barcelona also boasted six players on the 11-man All-Star team announced by FIFA and the soccer union FIFPro.

Messi, Xavi and Iniesta were joined by defenders Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, and forward David Villa, who transfered from Valencia during the off-season.

Also named to the team were Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Castillas and forward Cristiano Ronaldo, and three Inter Milan stars: defenders Lucio and Maicon and midfielder Wesley Snjeider.

Germany national team coach Silvia Neid won the inaugural women's coaching award.

This year marked a new era in the history of the Ballon d'Or, as it has merged with the FIFA world player of the year honour into a single award.

It was 55 years ago that respected soccer magazine France Football came up with the idea of honouring Europe's best player by polling the top soccer journalists across the continent, and awarding him Ballon d'Or (Golden Ball).

FIFA began handing out its world player of the year award in 1991. Messi won the FIFA honour in 2009.

Past Ballon d'Or winners include such soccer legends as Michel Platini, Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, and Marco van Basten.

With files from Associated Press