For those of you unable to catch the live streaming of the 2008 FIFA World Player Gala, FIFA.com brings you the highlights of a magical evening, most notably for Cristiano Ronaldo and Marta, who were crowned FIFA World Player and FIFA Women's World Player respectively in the grandiose surroundings of the Zurich Opera House on Monday 12 January.
The night's proceedings moved to the rhythm of the works of Georg Friedrich Handel, wonderfully performed by the Zurich Philharmonic Orchestra, while presenting duties were carried out by Swiss sports journalist Rainer Maria Salzgeber and Dutch actress and model Sylvie van der Vaart, wife of Real Madrid and Netherlands midfielder Rafael.
To get the ball rolling, the trophies set to be awarded to the 2008 FIFA World Players were tantalisingly unveiled, before clips introducing all the nominees in the two main categories were shown.
After an opening speech by FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter which recalled the biggest moments of the year just passed, the time arrived to pay homage to the outstanding performers at the FIFA competitions held in 2008. First up were the ladies, with the likes of Dzsenifer Marozsan, Taylor Vancil and Mana Iwabuchi, who starred at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup New Zealand, as well as Sydney Leroux and Alyssa Naeher, who lit up the women's U-20 event in Chile, making an appearance alongside established stars such as Marta, Cristiane and Nadine Angerer.
After a well-deserved ovation for these up-and-coming individuals, several of whom are sure to be chasing the senior prize in years to come, it was the turn of the men's game to applaud those players who made the biggest impact over the last 12 months. Six months on from their sparkling FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup displays on the sands of Marseille, Madjer, Roberto Valeiro and Amarelle were all honoured in Zurich. Also receiving recognition were futsal magicians Pula, Tiago and Falcao, who wowed the Brazilian fans at October's FIFA Futsal World Cup.
After briefly turning the spotlight onto South Africa, which is set to host both the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA World CupTM over the next 18 months, it was time to hand over the Development Award - a first in Gala history. This honour went to the Palestinian Football Association, whose President Jibril Rajoub received the award from Michel Platini and Joseph S. Blatter, who have hailed the construction of the Al-Husseini stadium in Al-Ram, the country's first international-class stadium. This enabled Palestine to host their first ever home international on their own soil against Jordan in October 2008.
On the back of this moving award, the contenders for the title of World Player and Women's World Player of the year returned to the fore. One by one, the five nominees in each category were individually introduced before answering questions from the masters of ceremony. That said, eager viewers were made to wait that bit longer to discover the identities of the night's big winners.
In the meantime, Issa Hayatou, CAF President and FIFA vice-president, had the honour of revealing the winner of the 2008 Fair Play Award, which was awarded jointly to the Armenian and Turkish Football Associations. There had been no diplomatic relations between the two countries for many years, but that situation changed on 6 September 2008 when Turkish President Abdullah Gul accepted the formal invitation of his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsian to attend the two nations' 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying match.
"Football has always been considered as an effective way of establishing a degree of mutual trust, common understanding and friendly relations," said Armenian Football Association President, Ruben Hayrapetyan. "We're happy to see that this match between our two national teams has been so warmly appreciated by the international football family."
On the back of a round of applause celebrating this touching event, it was time for the FIFA Presidential Distinction award, which was co-presented by the FIFA President himself, legendary Canadian player Charmaine Hooper and FIFA vice-president Jack Warner. The 2008 award went to the United States' women's national teams, with Heather O'Reilly picking up the prize on behalf of her fellow Stars and Stripes internationals.
The USA emerged victorious at both the Women's Olympic Football Tournament and the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, on top of a runners-up finish at the women's U-17 showpiece in New Zealand. These exceptional results can only boost the continued progress of the women's game which, as Hooper stated, "is currently played by 26 million girls and women across FIFA's 208 member associations and which continues to attract more and more sportswomen".
The icing on the cake of a spectacular evening came with the announcement of the winners of the FIFA World Player and FIFA Women's World Player 2008. German football legend Franz Beckenbauer, accompanied by experienced referee Nicole Petignat, prompted the penultimate round of applause after revealing Marta as the winner of the women's trophy. "I would like to thank God, my family and everyone who believed in me through the years," exclaimed the tearful Brazilian.
Finally, the man voted the finest player on planet football in 2008 by the world's national team coaches received his award from Brazilian icon Pele, O Rei (The King) handing the coveted trophy to none other than Cristiano Ronaldo. "I would be wrong if I did not thank everyone in my life - family, friends and teammates - who helped me get to this point," commented the United and Portugal star.
The title of the final piece of music played by the Zurich Orchestra perfectly summed up the evening's events, particularly for Ronaldo and Marta. That music was Handel's "La Réjouissance", one of five movements of his work "Royal Fireworks Music", a suitably fitting way to draw the curtain on the FIFA World Player Gala 2008.