Fabio Cannavaro, who captained Italy to the World Cup title on July 9, on Monday became the first defender to be named World Footballer of the Year at a gala of the ruling body FIFA.
Cannavaro, 33, is only the second Italian to win the prestigious award, following Roberto Baggio in 1993. Like Baggio 13 years ago, the Real Madrid player Cannavaro also won the European Footballer award in the same year.
"This is an unbelievable moment and tops off the year," said Cannavaro.
Cannavaro received 498 votes in the annual poll conducted among national team coaches and captains by the world governing body FIFA, beating now retired Frenchman Zinedine Zidane (454 votes) and Brazil's Ronaldinho (380).
Ronaldinho, who helped Barcelona to the Spanish league title and the European Champions League trophy, won the award in the past two years. Zidane is a three-time winner.
But Zidane's chances were not rated high this year because his career ended in shame in the World Cup final when he was red-carded for head-butting Italy's Marco Materazzi in the chest.
Italy went on to win the Berlin final on penalties, which allowed Cannavaro to lift the trophy on his 100th cap. He played superbly throughout the tournament in which Italy conceded just two goals in seven games.
Cannavaro's triumph comes 16 years after he was a ballboy at the Naples stadium when Italy lost the 1990 World Cup semi-final against Argentina.
He reportedly said in the aftermath that "I want to become a soccer player and World Cup winner."
Cannavaro made his professional debut with Napoli in March 1993 and played a total of 394 Serie A games before a summer move to Madrid following the Juventus' relegation for the Turin club's involvement in a match-fixing scandal. His other Italian clubs were Parma and Inter Milan.
The final outcome of the vote was seen as wide open and there were also some raised eyebrows that France and Arsenal star Thierry Henry did not make the shortlist.
Brazil were honored as Team of the Year after dominating the FIFA rankings for the fifth year in a row.
The Fair Play prize went to the fans at the June 9 to July 9 World Cup, with not only almost all 64 matches a sellout, but a huge number of 16 million partying peacefully at the official Fanfests in Germany.
"The 18th FIFA World Cup will long be remembered for this exceptional level of enthusiasm and passion," said FIFA boss Joseph Blatter.
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