Wed, Dec 22, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Ronaldinho takes soccer's top honor

TOP TALENT Seeing off stiff competition from France's Thierry Henry and Ukraine's Andriy Shevchenko, the Brazilian was named FIFA World Football Player of the Year

AFP , ZURICH

Ronaldinho from Brazil and Birgit Prinz from Germany acknowledge their election as FIFA World Players of the Year at the FIFA 2004 Centennial World Player Gala in Zurich, Switzerland, on Monday.

PHOTO: EPA

Brazil's Ronaldinho was named 2004 FIFA World Footballer of the Year on Monday to cap a fine 12 months for both club and country.

His club Barcelona are racing away at the top of the Spanish league and Brazil are well on course to qualify for the 2006 World Cup from South American qualifiers.

The result, from a shortlist including Thierry Henry of France and Ukrainian 2004 European Footballer of the Year Andriy Shevchenko, was announced at a gala evening at the Zurich opera house.

"Just to be here brings me great joy," Ronaldinho said. "This was a great victory, particularly as I have never been a great scorer. But we all play in our own way and each of the three nominees deserved to win. I'm even more happy now that I have won."

Ronaldinho was acclaimed by Pele himself as the best player at the 2002 World Cup and it is not surprising his talent has been finally recognized with FIFA's top award this year.

Ronaldinho's blinding pace un-hinged England's defense in the quarterfinals to set up a goal for Rivaldo, and his audacious free-kick caught out David Seaman to seal a 2-1 victory for Brazil.

Arguably he was the most important component of Brazil's vaunted "Triple R" strike-force at those 2002 finals, surging forward from just behind Ronaldo and Rivaldo and pulling opposing defenders out of position.

Undoubtedly he was one of the key components of Brazil winning their unprecedented fifth World Cup title.

He was hailed as the new boy-wonder of Brazilian football after starring in Brazil's winning 1997 FIFA Under-17 World Championship campaign, a tournament he finished as top scorer.

He confirmed his burgeoning talent at the 1999 Copa America, scoring an extraordinary individual goal against Venezuela which has passed into Brazilian folklore.

His talents at that tournament attracted the attention of several clubs in Europe, and early last year he looked to have completed a dream move from Gremio to France's Paris Saint Germain.

However the award comes after a great year at Barcelona, for whom he signed from PSG for US$34 million euros in July 2003 under the noses of Manchester United who were also courting him.

After a lackluster first six months in the Catalonian capital, he started to show top form and helped them to an incredible late season surge which saw them just fail to take the title from eventual champions Valencia.

This season, his confidence has grown under coach Frank Rijkaard and he has blossomed into a truly magnificent player, aided by the excellent Portuguese midfielder Deco.

Ronaldinho said: "Barcelona have treated me exceptionally well and I didn't think I would be so well received. I am very happy there. Barcelona is the perfect club for me and I want to go down in history there as a winner."

His prowess was encapsulated when he scored a superb winner in the dying seconds of Bar-celona's 2-1 victory over AC Milan at the beginning of November.

The complete list of FIFA award winners for this year is:

Men's Player of the year: Ronaldinho (BRA)

Women's Player of the year: Birgit Prinz (GER)

Team of the year: Brazil

Most improved team in FIFA world standings: China

Fair Play award: Brazilian football federation

Special FIFA president's award: Haitian football federation

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