Messi receives his award at the FIFA Ballon d’Or gala in Zurich tonight (Getty)

(WFI) Argentina’s Lionel Messi won the FIFA Ballon d’Or at a ceremony in Zurich tonight. It was his third consecutive World Player of the Year title.

The Barcelona star polled 47.88 % of the votes, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo (21.6%) and Xavi (9.23%).

The 24-year-old is only the fourth player in history to land three awards. Only UEFA president Michel Platini and Dutch legends Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten have achieved the feat.

Japan’s Homare Sawa claimed her first FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year award.

Sawa led Japan to FIFA Women’s World Cup victory in Germany, where she also won the adidas Golden Ball as best player and adidas Golden Boot for her five goals.

She collected 28.51% of the votes, ahead of Brazil’s Marta and Abby Wambach from the USA, who received 17.28% and 13.26%.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola and Japan’s women’s national team coach Norio Sasaki, won the men’s and women’s coaches of the year awards.

Barcelona finished 2011 with victory in the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, capping another magnificent year of trophy wins that also included the UEFA Champions League, La Liga, Spanish Super Cup and UEFA Super Cup.

FIFPro, the world players’ union, had invited 50,000 professional players from all over the world to select their best team of

Homare Sawa was the star of the Women’s World Cup 2011 (Getty)

2011, the FIFA/FIFPro WORLD XI.

The honours went to this all-star squad: Iker Casillas (Spain) in goal; Dani Alves (Brazil), Gerard Piqué (Spain), Sergio Ramos (Spain) and Nemanja Vidic (Serbia) in defence; Xabi Alonso (Spain), Andrés Iniesta (Spain) and Xavi (Spain) in midfield; and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Lionel Messi (Argentina) and Wayne Rooney (England) up front.

The FIFA Puskás Award for the “most beautiful goal” of the year as voted by 1.5 million football fans on FIFA.com and francefootball.fr went to Brazil’s Neymar for his stunning effort in the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A match between Santos FC and Flamengo in São Paulo on 27 July 2011.

Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson received the FIFA Presidential Award from FIFA chief Sepp Blatter for his outstanding dedication, commitment and service to football.

On Nov. 6, the Scotsman marked 25 years as United manager, a period during which the club have won over 30 trophies, including 12 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, two UEFA Champions Leagues and the FIFA Club World Cup.

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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