Cannavaro and Marta reign supreme
© Foto-net

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was celebrated as part of Monday evening's entertainment at the Zurich Opera House. To mark the 250th anniversary of his birth, the Austrian composer was toasted by the great and the good of world football, assembled for the FIFA World Player Gala 2006 under the theme 'Football meets Mozart'. At the end of a star-studded evening the suspense was finally lifted as this year's FIFA World Player and FIFA Women's World Player were announced. And in the esteemed opinion of the world's national coaches and captains, Fabio Cannavaro and Marta were the outstanding male and female performers of an action-packed 2006.

Those were not the only awards to be handed out at a beautifully orchestrated one-and-a-half hour gala. Hosted by Ruud Gullit and Amanda McLane, the musical backdrop to the ceremony was provided by excerpts from Mozart's finest opera, 'The Magic Flute', performed by the Zurich Opera House Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev. The 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ was the focal point for the first accolades of the evening, which were preceded by a video of the tournament's many highlights.

The FIFA Fair Play Award for Germany 2006 was won jointly by Brazil and Spain, with the Lev Yashin Prize for the competition's best keeper going to Gianluigi Buffon, who was sadly unable to attend the gala. It was then time for Miroslav Klose, Hernan Crespo and Ronaldo, the top three goalscorers in Germany, to take to the stage to receive their respective adidas Golden, Silver and Bronze Shoes .

That was the prelude to one of the high points of the evening as former Dutch international Gullit invited Zinedine Zidane, Fabio Cannavaro and Andrea Pirlo, the top three performers at the summer's showpiece event, to step forward and collect their respective adidas Golden, Silver and Bronze Balls .

There was much, much more to Germany 2006 than glittering awards, however. The tournament also provided the framework for a tremendously successful partnership between FIFA and the SOS Children's Villages charity , which raised over 25 million euros, an achievement that had the world's footballing elite toasting the immense generosity of the many fans who flocked to Germany in June and July.

The FIFA World Cup theme continued with the announcement of the evening's next award, the Fair Play Award for 2006, which went to the hundreds of thousands of fans who made Germany 2006 such a wonderful spectacle. As Charmaine Hooper rightly pointed out in presenting the prize, "the success of the tournament would not have been possible without the presence of the many supporters who travelled to Europe from all over the world".

The most moving moments of the ceremony came with the presentation of the FIFA Presidential Award, awarded posthumously to Giacinto Facchetti , who died in September. FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter could barely conceal his emotions as he paid tribute to the late Italian defender: "It came as a great shock to us all when we learned of his tragic death. We will always remember him as an exceptional player, a skilled administrator and, above all, as a truly exceptional person. We have lost a real friend who will never be forgotten."

The crowning moment of the night was then upon us as the six FIFA World Player 2006 nominees were presented to the audience - the three female contenders Kristine Lilly, Renate Lingor and Marta followed by their male counterparts Fabio Cannavaro, Ronaldinho and Zinedine Zidane. After finishing third in 2004 and second last year, Brazil's Marta went one better this time and was almost at a loss for words as she gave her thanks.

"I thank God for all I have achieved so far," she said. "I'm very thankful to my family, my club, and my team-mates. And, of course, I owe this award to all the people who helped me to get here. I promise i will work very hard in order to be here many times in the future."

Fabio Cannavaro was next into the spotlight as he stepped up to accept the men's award. The world champion and European Player of the Year rounded off an amazing 2006 in perfect style, and the fulsome recognition of his peers drew an ecstatic response from the Italian defender.

"I'm very moved, it's incredible," he said. "This year I've been champion of Italy, a World Cup winner, a Ballon d'Or winner and now this. I thank the coaches and captains who voted. And I dedicate this award to Italian football, that managed to overcome its big problems."

Zidane, too, was pleased with the night. "I hope people will remember of what I've done for football," he said. "Football gave me a lot and I'm happy to participate in this party with so many champions."

After the evening's award winners had filed back on stage for one last time, a suitably dramatic excerpt from 'Don Giovanni' brought the curtain down on a wonderful evening's entertainment.