Football's Gala evening awaits
© Foto-net

Though the festive season is now behind us, for the biggest names in world football it is not yet time to put away the tuxedos and evening dresses. That is because this Monday, on 12 January, the splendid Zurich Opera House will host the 2008 FIFA World Player Gala, in which the men's and women's player of the year will be crowned.

The format has changed slightly since the 2007 edition, at which Brazilians Kaka and Marta took top honours. Not only has the ceremony moved from December to January, but for the first time there are five nominees vying for just one prize in the men's and women's categories, guaranteeing even more drama than usual.

Unsurprisingly, last year's winners are among the nominees again this time. The mercurial Marta, who remains as hungry as ever for individual and team accolades, showed how much the award meant to her last year, saying: "I still have many things to achieve and want to come back to this Gala many more times." Kaka was also greatly moved by his 2007 award, saying at the time: "This is a very special day for me. The Bible says life gives us more than we ask for and that's what's happened to me."

Neither Brazilian will find it easy to hold onto their crown, however, given the impressive credentials of their fellow candidates. Cristiano Ronaldo finished top scorer en route to winning the English Premier League with Manchester United in 2008, a year in which he also picked up winner's medals in the UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup. The last 12 months also saw Lionel Messi claim his second Olympic gold medal and continue to dazzle almost every time he took to the field. Also with strong claims are two Spaniards who conquered Europe with their national team this year: Barcelona's sublime playmaker, Xavi, and Liverpool's unerring goalscorer, Fernando El Niño Torres.

Very keen to relieve Marta of her title will be her Seleção strike partner, Cristiane, German bronze medallists from Beijing, Birgit Prinz and Nadine Angerer, as well as the classy England attacker Kelly Smith.

Past and present
The Gala will come of age this Monday as it celebrates its 18th edition, and once again FIFA.com will be offering unrivalled coverage. The inaugural winner way back in 1991 was German legend Lothar Matthaus, who will be in attendance again this year as one of the special guests at the Zurich Opera House.

In the intervening years, Brazil have provided the most winners (8) in the men's category, thanks to Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldo (3), Ronaldinho (2) and Kaka. Next comes France with three top spots, all won by the inimitable Zinedine Zidane, then Italy with two crowns courtesy of Roberto Baggio (1993) and Fabio Cannavaro (2006), the latter being the only defender to receive the accolade to date. Another milestone was George Weah's coronation in 1995, when he became the first and to date only African player to lift the coveted award.

The 2008 edition was would be a historic one should Xavi, Torres or Messi to take top honours, as no Argentinian or Spaniard has ever won the trophy. However, if Cristiano Ronaldo were to prevail, he would become the second Portuguese to be voted FIFA World Player after his compatriot Luis Figo in 2001. Completing this roll-call of modern greats is the Netherlands' Marco van Basten, winner in 1992.

The first women's award was presented in 2001, going to the USA's Mia Hamm, who would retain the title 12 months later. Germany's Birgit Prinz then took the prize three years running, before Marta claimed top spot in 2006 and 2007.

Anxious to know who will be crowned the world's finest of 2008? Then stay with FIFA.com this Monday. Not only will you be the first to know who the coaches and captains of the FIFA member associations have chosen as FIFA World Player and FIFA Women's World Player, you can also see who picks up the FIFA Fair Play and FIFA Presidential awards as they happen.

And we have so much more to offer you on Monday, when our transmission starts at 15.30 CET with free and exclusive video footage from the respective press conferences with the men's and women's nominees. Later that evening we will bring you live and uninterrupted coverage of the awards ceremony from the Opera House, along with the best photos, quotes and videos of the big event. See you then!

What's on and when
15.30 (CET): Pre-ceremony media conference (female nominees)
16.30 (CET): Pre-ceremony media conference (male nominees)
20.00 (CET): Gala ceremony