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The Beautiful Game : Ronaldo unseats Messi

Portugal superstar awarded Ballon d'Or as world's best, halting Argentine's 4-year run

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Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal arrives with his girlfriend, Russian model Irina Shayk, on the red carpet prior to the FIFA Ballon d'Or 2013 gala.

WALTER BIERI / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal arrives with his girlfriend, Russian model Irina Shayk, on the red carpet prior to the FIFA Ballon d'Or 2013 gala.

ZURICH, Switzerland -- Cristiano Ronaldo has won the FIFA Ballon d'Or award for 2013, ending Lionel Messi's four-year run as the world's best player.

Ronaldo scored 69 goals for Real Madrid and Portugal last year, and his stunning hat trick against Sweden in a decisive World Cup playoff was perhaps the defining individual performance.

"There are no words to describe this moment," said Ronaldo, who was in tears after accepting the trophy with his young son, also named Cristiano, beside him on stage.

He defeated Barcelona's Messi and France winger Franck Ribery, who helped Champions League winner Bayern Munich to a sweep of major titles.

Voting was done by national team captains and coaches, plus selected journalists, in FIFA's 209 member countries who chose their top-3 preferences.

In a tight race, Ronaldo received 1,365 points, Messi had 1,205 and Ribery got 1,127. Canada coach Benito Floro cast his first-place vote for Ronaldo, while captain Atiba Hutchinson had Messi first and Ronaldo second.

Ronaldo rolled back his head and closed his eyes, grinning, when Brazil great Pele, after a dramatic pause and smile, read out his name. He kissed his girlfriend, model Irina Shayk, before going up to the stage.

"People who know me know how many people helped me," the emotional winner said in Portuguese. "If I have forgotten anyone, I do apologize because I am deeply moved."

Pele greeted Ronaldo minutes after he also cried on stage when collecting an honorary Ballon d'Or for his own outstanding career.

Ronaldo had to wait five years since first winning the award as a Manchester United player, as Messi found a way to overshadow him in each of the past four years -- despite the Portugal winger's prolific scoring for Madrid. However, Ronaldo was heavily favoured this time after FIFA extended the balloting deadline beyond the World Cup playoffs in November and allowed voters to change preferences.

The Portugal star's display in Stockholm was so impressive it seemed certain to sway voters at a time when Messi was sidelined by his third injury of the year.

Still, FIFA spokesman Walter De Gregorio said Monday the standings were unchanged by the voting rules adjustment, which raised the turnout from around 50 to 88 per cent.

Ronaldo said earlier Monday that he made peace with FIFA president Sepp Blatter, whose stated personal preference last October for Messi sparked speculation the eventual winner would snub the ceremony.

"We talked over the telephone and everything was cleared," Ronaldo told a news conference before the ceremony. "This is no longer an issue, neither for us nor for football."

Pele, viewed by many as the greatest footballer ever, finally received a Ballon d'Or trophy which he could never get during his career when the original prize, created in 1956, was restricted to European players.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 14, 2014 C4

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