Messi wins FIFA's Ballon d'Or
Zurich - Lionel Messi was on Monday awarded the 2011 FIFA Ballon d'Or at a star-studded ceremony in Zurich, the third consecutive year that he has won the prestigious award for the world's outstanding footballer.
The 24-year-old Barcelona and Argentina forward finished ahead of his Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo and Barca team-mate Xavi.
"It's a great personal pleasure for me," said Messi.
"It's the third time I've won it. It's just an amazing honour. I want to thank everyone that's been involved with me -- my team-mates, trainers, physios, the coach (Pep Guardiola) and everyone at Barcelona.
"I'd also like to thank the Argentina national team as well."
Messi becomes only the second player, after current UEFA president Michel Platini, to win the award for three consecutive years.
He also joins Platini, Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten as the only men to have won the prize on three occasions.
"I want to share this honour with my team-mate, Xavi," added Messi, who then addressed his club-mate in the audience at the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala.
"He deserves it, too. I want to share it with you, because you deserve it as much as me. It's a pleasure to be here alongside him and to play with him."
The award was formed when the Ballon d'Or merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2010 and is voted for by national team coaches and captains, as well as a panel of football journalists selected by France Football magazine.
Messi was the strong favourite to retain his prize after a year in which he inspired his club to five trophies, including the Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup and a third consecutive La Liga title.
He scored twice, including a memorable solo goal at the Bernabeu, as Barca beat old enemies Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals and he was also on target from long range in the 3-1 defeat of Manchester United in the final at Wembley.
This season he has scored his 200th goal for Barcelona and is closing in on Cesar Rodriguez's all-time record of 235 goals for the club.
Barcelona were given further reason to celebrate when Guardiola was named FIFA Coach of the Year.
The 40-year-old former Barcelona and Spain midfielder had been nominated alongside Madrid's Jose Mourinho - winner last year after guiding Inter Milan to three trophies including the Champions League - and Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United.
"I want to dedicate this award to the thousands of people who, through more than a hundred years, have worked for FC Barcelona and helped develop one of the best clubs in the world," said Guardiola.
The blow was softened for Ferguson by the FIFA Presidential Award, which was presented to him by FIFA president Sepp Blatter in recognition of his 25 years of service in the Old Trafford dug-out.
"I've been a lucky manager to have such great players from the word go right through to today," said the 70-year-old Scot.
"What makes United such a special club, from our past right up to the present day, is that they have always retained the courage to play and the courage to win."
Barca boasted five players in the FIFPro XI for 2011, with Dani Alves, Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta selected alongside Xavi and Messi.
Madrid had four representatives - Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso and Ronaldo - while Manchester United pair Nemanja Vidic and Wayne Rooney completed the line-up.
Messi and Rooney missed out on the FIFA Puskas Award for the best goal of 2011, which was awarded to Santos forward Neymar for a remarkable solo goal that he scored in a Brazilian league game against Flamengo.
Japanese midfielder Homare Sawa claimed the women's equivalent of the Ballon d'Or, after she won the Golden Boot for top scorer and the Golden Ball for player of the tournament as Japan secured their first ever women's World Cup title in Germany.
Marta of Brazil and United States striker Abby Wambach were also nominated.
Japan coach Norio Sasaki was named Women's Coach of the Year, ahead of France coach Bruno Bini and the USA's Swedish coach Pia Sundhage.