Real Madrid defender Fabio Cannavaro won recognition for his stunning World Cup performances as Italy skipper by winning the prestigious European Footballer of the Year Award (Ballon d'Or) on Monday.
The 33-year-old Neapolitan succeeds Barcelona star Ronaldinho, winner of last year's award, but who placed fourth this time largely as a result of his World Cup performance as Brazil crashed in the quarter-finals to France.
Cannavaro with 173 points took the honor ahead of Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon (124) of Italy and Arsenal's French striker Thierry Henry (121).
France's Zinedine Zidane, who retired after reaching the World Cup finals, placed fifth with 71 points.
"I want to thank Real president Ramon Calderon and my teammates from Juve and the national team who had an important part to play in my winning this award," said Cannavaro.
"It has a double importance because it's given to the greatest players and as a defender it's rare to have this honor. The World Cup in Germany was perfect for a defender. I remember in particular the semi-final against Germany," he added.
Cannavaro said that his personal choice of winner would have been Buffon "because he's a friend and a phenomenon," followed by Henry, who was runner-up in 2003, and Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo.
"Gigi [Buffon] is in the goalkeepers category but also apart in that he's in a class of his own," said the Real Madrid defender.
"A player like Thierry Henry has incredible qualities. He's been in the running for so many years. This year people said `that's it, this time he'll have it' but he didn't. I'm sorry but it's not my fault, I'm not the one who votes," he said.
1. Fabio Cannavaro, Juventus-Real Madrid, 173 points. 2. Gianluigi Buffon, Juventus, 124. 3. Thierry Henry, Arsenal, 121. 4. Ronaldinho, Barcelona, 73. 5. Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid-retired, 71. 6. Samuel Eto'o, Barcelona, 67. 7. Miroslav Klose, Werder Bremen, 29. 8. Didier Drogba, Chelsea, 25. 9. Andrea Pirlo, AC Milan, 17. 10. Jens Lehmann, Arsenal, 13. 11. Deco, Barcelona, 11.
(tie) Kaka, AC Milan, 11. 13. Franck Ribery, Marseille, 9. 14. Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United, 5.
(tie) Gennaro Gattuso, AC Milan, 5.
(tie) Patrick Vieira, Juventus-Internazionale, 5. 17. Frank Lampard, Chelsea, 3.
(tie) Lukas Podolski, FC Cologne-Bayern Munich, 3.
(tie) Carles Puyol, Barcelona, 3. 20. Juninho, Lyon, 2.
(tie) Lionel Messi, Barcelona, 2.
(tie) John Terry, Chelsea, 2.
(tie) Luca Toni, Fiorentina, 2.
(tie) Gianluca Zambrotta, Juventus-Barcelona, 2. 25. Philipp Lahm, Bayern Munich, 1.
(tie) David Villa, Valencia, 1.
Cannavaro added that his performances with Juventus played a big part in his success.
"Many people analyzed my season with Juve last year for this vote. In that season I played 37 matches and scored four crucial goals."
As well as winning the World Cup, Cannavaro won the Serie A with Juventus in 2004/05 and 2005/06 before they were stripped of those titles and demoted to the second division after being found guilty of match fixing.
He is the fifth Italian to win the Ballon D'Or after Omar Sivori (1961), Gianni Rivera (1969), Paolo Rossi (1982) and Roberto Baggio (1993).
The last defender to win the award was Germany's Mathias Sammer in 1996.
Capped 105 times for Italy, Cannavaro becomes the fifth Real Madrid player to win the award after Argentine Alfredo Di Stefano (1957, 1959), Portugal's Luis Figo (2000) and Brazilian Ronaldo (2002).
The 51st Ballon d'Or, organized by French soccer magazine, France Football, was decided after votes from European soccer's leading journalists.
But not everyone though thought the award had gone to the right recipient.
When Raymond Domenech was asked for his opinion on Canal+ television the France manager shrugged and said: "Fabio Cannavaro is a good player ... but he's not the Ballon d'Or -- Thierry Henry was much more decisive throughout the season. I don't understand it."
"For me the true Ballon d'Or is elected on Dec. 18 by FIFA and for me it's evidently Thierry Henry. He's above everyone," he added.