The votes have been counted and the identities of the FIFA World Player and FIFA Women's World Player 2004 are now known. Ronaldinho carries off the men's award while Birgit Prinz takes her second women's title in succession. The award winners were announced at the FIFA World Player Gala 2004 this evening (20 December). The glittering event marked an emphatic conclusion to the FIFA Centennial festivities at the Zurich Opera House where some of the world's best-known classical singers enchanted the distinguished guests assembled for the occasion and viewers around the world, thanks to television coverage in more than 130 countries.
Ronaldinho's triumph is perfectly in keeping with one of the themes of the gala: the bond between football and opera. The Brazilian genius possesses creative qualities in abundance. His favourite stage is the football pitch, he saves his most inspirational refrains for when he has a ball at his feet, and he regularly composes overtures that bewilder his opponents and captivate his fans in equal measure.
The Barcelona playmaker beat Thierry Henry by 68 points (see FIFA.com for full details of voting). The Arsenal and France striker finished this year's vote in the same position as in 2003, firm proof of his unswerving consistency, while AC Milan and Ukraine goal-getter Andriy Shevchenko followed in third, in what is his (and Ronaldinho's) first top-three placing in the World Player poll.
A record number of votes were cast this year, with no fewer than 157 member associations taking part. FIFA also took the unprecedented step of inviting national team captains to send in their votes, thus adding an even more technical distinction to the FIFA World Player Award.
The same procedure applied for the FIFA Women's World Player vote, which also saw a record numbers of votes polled (114 member associations) and confirmed the supremacy of another virtuoso of the beautiful game, Germany's Birgit Prinz. Having won the award last year and finished runner-up in 2002, the prolific striker once again attracted the lion's share of the votes. And at just 27, Birgit Prinz still has a glowing future ahead of her. In this year's vote, she outstripped women's football's first superstar, Mia Hamm, the two-time winner of the award (in 2001 and 2002) who recently brought down the curtain on a phenomenal international career. However, Prinz will be nervously looking over her shoulder at a copious crop of talented youngsters, led by Brazil's precocious star Marta, who has twice lit up the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship, first in Canada in 2002 and most recently in Thailand just a few weeks ago. A top-three finish for such a young player in the voting for this respected award is a sure sign that women's football is set for even more success in the future.
A number of other coveted awards were also presented at the gala. The FIFA Presidential Award went to the Haiti football association, while the Brazilian football association received the FIFA Fair Play Award. The grounds for both distinctions was the 'Match for Peace', contested by the two associations' national teams in Port-au-Prince on 18 August 2004 (cf. media release 2004-0141-Presidential and Fair Play Award).
In two new awards introduced at this year's gala, Brazil's Falcao was crowned FIFA Futsal World Player 2004 and Thiago Carico de Azevedo (also from Brazil) FIFA Interactive World Player. Falcao was designated top player during the FIFA Futsal World Championship 2004, which ended on 5 December in Chinese Taipei. The jury adjudicating on the award comprised the members of the FIFA Futsal Committee and the Technical Study Group as well as the coaches of the eight teams that reached the second round of the Futsal World Championship. Meanwhile, Thiago Carico de Azevedo outshone his rivals in the final of the first ever FIFA Interactive World Cup at FIFA headquarters in Zurich on Sunday.
Finally, the last FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking of the year was published on the morning of the gala, confirming Brazil - the nation that dominated the presentations at this 14th FIFA World Player Gala - as the Top Team of 2004. The ranking also saw the China PR national team clinch this year's Best Mover title.
The FIFA Centennial World Player Gala was followed by a special dinner and show reflecting the magnitude of the occasion, including a concert by Lionel Richie in the Centennial Dome, a huge purpose-built tent measuring 50 metres across and standing 20 metres high, constructed in the heart of Zurich, just a few steps from the Opera House and Lake Zurich. After all, it is not every day that you celebrate your one-hundredth birthday…