Zurich: Cristiano Ronaldo claimed FIFA’s inaugural ‘Best Player of the Year’ award, the latest prize for the Real Madrid and Portugal star after a glittering 2016 for club and country.
Leicester City’s Claudio Ranieri received the ‘Best Men’s Coach’ award here Monday night following his side’s fairytale Premier League triumph in 2016.
But the night again belonged to the 31-year-old Ronaldo, who edged out long-time nemesis Lionel Messi for the trophy as well as France’s Antoine Griezmann, the top player at last summer’s European Championship.
Ronaldo had already won the Ballon d’Or after his third Champions League title, thanks largely to his 16 goals in 12 games, as well as triumphing with Portugal at Euro 2016 – the country’s first major prize.
“Definitely 2016 was the best year of my career,” Ronaldo said after being handed the prize by FIFA president Gianni Infantino. “But I am still not over yet, there are many more awards I am hoping to get.”
Ranieri, 65, who saw off Real boss Zinedine Zidane and Portugal manager Fernando Santos, said the best coach honour was ‘incredible’ after receiving the prize from Argentine football legend Diego Maradona.
The prizes were based on a combined voting process involving national team coaches and captains, a selected group of journalists and fans.
Ronaldo took 34.5 per cent of the votes over 26.4 per cent to Messi, who skipped the awards show co-hosted by US actress and former ‘Desperate Housewives’ star Eva Longoria.
US midfielder Carli Lloyd scooped the ‘Best Women’s Player’ of 2016, the two-time Olympic gold medallist adding to her 2015 FIFA ‘Women’s World Player of the Year’ accolade. The American finished ahead of Brazilian star Marta and Germany’s Melanie Behringer.
She described 2016 as ‘bittersweet’, with the US failing to win a medal for the first time in women’s Olympic football.
Spain’s La Liga accounted for nine of the 11 players in the ‘FIFPro’ team of the year with Ronaldo and Messi headlining a star-studded line-up.
Ronaldo was joined by Real teammates Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric while the side comprised four Barcelona players with Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and Luis Suarez joining Messi. Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and Dani Alves of Juventus were the only two in the team outside the La Liga.
FIFA also gave a ‘Fair Play’ prize to the Colombian side Atletico Nacional. They had asked South America’s football governing body to award a regional club title to Chapecoense after most of the Brazilian side perished in a plane crash on the way to the first leg of the final.
FIFA council approves of 48-team World Cup
The World Cup will expand to 48 teams from its current 32, starting with the 2026 edition of soccer’s showpiece tournament, FIFA decided here Tuesday.
FIFA’s decision making body, the FIFA council, also decided that the format would consist of 16 groups of three teams each in the group stage.
“The FIFA Council unanimously decided on a 48-team World Cup as of 2026: 16 groups of three teams. Details to follow after the meeting,” FIFA said on its Twitter feed.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who replaced the disgraced Sepp Blatter in February, had made World Cup expansion one of his promises during his successful electoral campaign.
Infantino had initially suggested a 40-team tournament but then added another eight to that total in October.
In making the decision, FIFA brushed aside concerns that the expansion would lower the overall standard of the tournament, and make it too long and unwieldy.
Critics, including the powerful European clubs as well as some leading coaches, have said that FIFA is tampering with a winning formula.
However, FIFA’s decision to increase the number of teams received huge support from the Argentina legend Diego Maradona. “It sounds like a fantastic idea to me,” the 56-year-old told reporters at FIFA’s headquarters here.
“This will give more possibilities to countries that have never reached that level of competition,” he added.