Ronaldo, Marta honored by FIFA

Following are the Associated Press stories on the Players of the Year – Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Brazilian Marta.
Marta also plans to join the Los Angeles Sol in the new women’s pro league and that means she will be playing in the Bay Area sometime this summer.
Marta was the obvious women’s choice, but Ronaldo, although deserving, might not have had the best year of all. My vote would have been cast for Argentina midfielder Lionel Messi.

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Cristiano Ronaldo won the FIFA World Player of the Year award Monday to complete a sweep of soccer’s top individual honors for 2008.
The Portugal winger led Manchester United to the Premier League and Champions League titles in May. He scored 42 goals in all competitions last season and became the first English Premier League player to win the honor in the award’s 18-year history.
“It is an overwhelming moment, a very special moment in my life,” Ronaldo said. “I would like to say to my mother and sister that the fireworks can be fired off now.”
Brazil’s Marta won the women’s award for the third year in a row. She earlier announced she is joining the Los Angeles Sol in the Women’s Professional Soccer League.
Ronaldo received 136 first-place votes and 935 points in a worldwide poll of national team captains and coaches. He was followed by Barcelona and Argentina midfielder Lionel Messi (678) and Liverpool and Spain striker Fernando Torres (203), with the results announced by Brazilian great Pele.
AC Milan and Brazil midfielder Kaka, the 2007 winner, was fourth (183), followed by Barcelona and Spain midfielder Xavi Hernandez (155), Liverpool and England midfielder Stephen Gerrard (98) and Barcelona and Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o (58), U.S. coach Bob Bradley picked Ronaldo first, followed by Xavi and Torres. U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra listed Ronaldo first, followed by Xavi and Gerrard.
Ronaldo was widely expected to win after capturing the Ballon D’Or as European player of the year and World Soccer magazine’s player of the year. Before the announcement, the orchestra at the Zurich Opera House gave a not-so-subtle hint by playing an aria from Handel’s “Rinaldo.”
Ronaldo is the second Portuguese to receive the award. Luis Figo won in 2001 when David Beckham, who also wore No. 7 for Manchester United, was runner-up.
“It is a dream for me to get this prize because I want to bring the team and my country forward,” Ronaldo said. “I would like to dedicate it to my family. This is the most important thing to me.”
Ronaldo missed the start of this season because of injury and has struggled to regain his form. He has eight league goals, but the last came in November.
Before the ceremony, Ronaldo paid tribute to United manager Alex Ferguson and his former Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who now manages United’s rival Chelsea.
“Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Scolari were decisive,” he said through an interpreter. “I would like to thank them for making me the player I am today.”
Messi led Argentina to the Olympic gold medal in Beijing and has helped Barcelona take a commanding lead of the Spanish league, scoring 20 goals in 22 games.
Marta, who led Brazil to a silver medal in Beijing, received 1,002 points to beat Germany’s Birgit Prinz (328) and Brazil teammate Cristiane (275). The other finalists were Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer and England striker Kelly Smith.
“It is the fifth time I have come here and the third time I win, and the emotions are still strong,” Marta said. “This is an award any athlete would be happy to get.”
The national federations of Armenia and Turkey won the Fair Play Award. The teams played each other for the first time in September, with Turkey winning the World Cup qualifier 2-0 in the Armenian capital. Armenia and Turkey do not have diplomatic relations because of the dispute over the killings of Armenians during World War I, which Armenians contend was genocide.
FIFA gave a special award to the Palestine Football Association for opening the Al-Husseini Stadium and staging the first international game on the West Bank.
The Presidential Award went to women’s soccer, with a special dedication to the U.S. team that won the Olympic gold medal.
“For so many years women played football and no one noticed,” said U.S. player Heather O’Reilly, who accepted the award.
“That has changed today. The women’s game is improving day by day.”

MARTA TO JOIN L.A. SOL
Marta, a three-time FIFA player of the year, is joining the new women’s league in the U.S.
The 22-year-old Brazilian striker said she will sign a three-year contract to play for the Los Angeles Sol of the Women’s Professional Soccer league.
“I have in mind that a very competitive league will be created,” said Marta, who has spent the past five years playing for Swedish club Umea. “We are looking at the future. I think it will attract many players.”
The first game of the seven-team league will feature the Sol against the Washington Freedom on March 29 in Carson.
Marta announced her decision several hours before being chosen FIFA’s player of the year in Zurich, Switzerland.
“Our mission is to be the premier women’s soccer league in the world,” WPS commissioner Tonya Antonucci said. “And we know that Marta, as a multiple FIFA World Player of the Year, will help get us there by raising our visibility both in the U.S.
and globally.”
Brazil striker Cristiane, who plays for Corinthians in Brazil, said she has an offer from the Chicago Red Stars, who selected her in an international draft in September.
“I will go to Chicago in February,” she said through an interpreter. “I am going to see if I can do the best I can.
There are a number of Brazilian girls playing there. We have many people looking forward to a great career.”
Marta will be the star international attraction when the U.S. league kicks off in the spring.
Marta has yet to visit Los Angeles or meet David Beckham, who put the city on the soccer map when he joined the Galaxy team two years ago. Beckham is on loan at AC Milan of Italy during the Galaxy’s offseason.
“I am concentrating on getting there and doing what I know best,” Marta said. “Bringing the game forward and making it more competitive because the U.S. is very strong football-wise.”
The U.S. women won Olympic gold in Beijing by beating the Brazil team, which included Marta and Cristiane, 1-0 in extra time.