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Ronaldo sweeps 2008 honors

CRISTIANO Ronaldo won the FIFA World Player of the Year award on Monday to complete a clean sweep of top individual honors for 2008.

The 23-year-old Portugal winger was honored for his dominating displays and sparkling goals in leading Manchester United to both the Premier League and Champions League titles in May, receiving 136 first-place votes and 935 points in a worldwide poll of national team captains and coaches.

"It is an overwhelming moment, a very special moment in my life," Ronaldo said in his acceptance speech. "I would like to say to my mother and sister that the fireworks can be fired off now."

The result was announced by Brazil's all-time great Pele at a ceremony in Zurich, Switzerland, with Barcelona and Argentina midfielder Lionel Messi coming in second with 678 points. Liverpool striker Fernando Torres was third with 203.

Brazil's Marta won the women's award for the third year in a row, after announcing earlier that she was joining the Los Angeles Sol in the Women's Professional Soccer league.

Ronaldo became the first player from the English Premier League to win the award in its 18-year history, after scoring 42 goals in all competitions last season. He missed the start of this season with an injury, and has struggled to recapture his top form after returning. He has eight league goals so far, but the last came in November.

Messi, meanwhile, led Argentina to the Olympic gold in Beijing and has helped Barcelona take a commanding lead of the Spanish league, scoring 20 goals in 22 games this season.

Still, Ronaldo was widely expected to receive the honor, after previously winning the Ballon D'Or as European player of the year and World Soccer magazine's player of the year award.

Before the award was announced, the orchestra at the Zurich Opera House even gave a not-so-subtle hint by performing an aria from Handel's "Rinaldo."

AC Milan playmaker Kaka, last year's winner, and Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez were also finalists for the award.

Ronaldo is the second Portuguese player to win the title following Luis Figo in 2001, when David Beckham, who also wore the No. 7 shirt for Manchester United, was the runner-up.

"It is a dream for me to get this prize because I want to bring the team and my country forward," Ronaldo said. "I would like to dedicate it to my family. This is the most important thing to me."

Before the ceremony, Ronaldo also paid tribute to United manager Alex Ferguson and his former Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who now manages United's rival Chelsea, for helping him achieve his goals.

"Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Scolari were decisive," he said. "I would like to thank them for making me the player I am today."

The annual Fair Play award was given to the national federations of Armenia and Turkey, who faced each other in a match for the first time last September. Turkey won the World Cup qualifier 2-0 in the Armenian capital Yerevan.

The two nations had been in dispute for almost a century since World War I-era massacres of Armenians in Turkey.

FIFA also gave a special award to the Palestine Football Association for opening the Al-Husseini stadium and staging the first international match on the West Bank.


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