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Ballon d'Or Hails Cannavaro
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Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro was elected European Footballer of the Year (Ballon d'Or) Monday, the first defender in 10 years to win the prestigious award.

The 33-year-old defender took the honor with 173 points ahead of Juventus and Italy teammate, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon (124) and Arsenal's French striker Thierry Henry (121).

"It has a double importance because it's given to the greatest players and as a defender it's rare to have this honour," said Cannavaro.

France's Zinedine Zidane, who retired after reaching the World Cup finals, came fifth with 71 points.

Last year's winner, Barcelona star Ronaldinho, placed fourth this time largely due to a disappointing welcome in which Brazil crashed out at the quarter-final stage against France.

Cannavaro said that his personal choice of winner would have been Buffon "because he's a friend and a phenomenon", followed by Henry, who was runner-up in 2003, and Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo.

"Gigi (Buffon) is in the goalkeepers category but he's also in a class of his own," said Cannavaro -- who joined the Spanish Real Madrid outfit from Juventus in July.

"A player like Thierry Henry has incredible qualities. He's been in the running for so many years... I'm sorry but it's not my fault, I'm not the one who votes."

The 51st Ballon d'Or, also called the Golden Ball award, was organized by French football magazine, France Football, and decided after votes from European football's leading journalists.

(Xinhua News Agency November 28, 2006)

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