AC Milan's Kaka wins Golden Ball award

AC Milan midfielder Kaka won the Ballon d'Or award - the Golden Ball - on Sunday as the world soccer player of the year.

AC Milan midfielder Kaka won the Ballon d'Or award — the Golden Ball —on Sunday as the world soccer player of the year.

The Brazilian playmaker received 444 points from a panel of journalists and soccer officials in a vote organized by France Football magazine.

Portugal and Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo finished second with 277 points, while Argentina and FC Barcelona forward Lionel Messi was third with 255. Chelsea striker Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast was fourth with 108 points, and Milan midfielder Andrea Pirlo of Italy finished fifth with 41.

Kaka, 25, succeeds Italy's World Cup-winning captain and defender Fabio Cannavaro as the Ballon d'Or winner, and is the first Brazilian to lift the prestigious trophy since Barcelona's Ronaldinho in 2005.

"It has been a special year for me; this award underlines that," said Kaka, who helped AC Milan win its seventh Champions League title, in May. "The only way to win an award like this is to belong to a team which fights.

"I have to thank the players, the coach."

Kaka was the top scorer in last season's Champions League with 10 goals, including a two-goal performance on the road against Manchester United in the semifinals that was hailed by pundits as one of the best of the competition.

Kaka joins an elite list of AC Milan players who have won the award: Andriy Shevchenko (2004), George Weah (1995), Marco Van Basten (1988, 1989 and 1992), Ruud Gullit (1987) and Gianni Rivera (1969).

Kaka is also a favourite to be named world player of the year by FIFA, soccer's world governing body, when the award is announced later this month.

After more than half a century, the Ballon d'Or underwent a major change this year.

In 1956, France Football came up with the idea of honouring Europe's player of the year by polling the top soccer journalists across the continent annually, and awarding the Ballon d'Or.

This year, France Football changed the qualifications, openingthe awardup to players from the rest of the world, regardless of nationality. This marks a new era in the history of the Ballon d'Or, as it effectively has become the world player of the year award.