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Fabio Cannavaro

Italian Sport - November 28

Azzurri captain Fabio Cannavaro was named the European Footballer of the Year, making him the fifth Italian to claim soccer's most prestigious individual award. The Real Madrid defender beat off competition from Italy team-mate Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus and Arsenal's France striker Thierry Henry to take the 2006 Ballon d'Or. The triumph is largely down to Cannavaro's performances at Germany 2006, where he barely put a foot wrong as he led the Azzurri to their fourth World Cup.

"The award is fantastic, the crowning of an exceptional year," said Italy's World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi. "Cannavaro is the captain of a fantastic group and in part he receives the prize for everyone. "I'm not surprised a defender won. An outstanding footballer is someone who is crucial for their team, regardless of the position they play in, and that's what Cannavaro is."

The 33-year-old Neapolitan's first thoughts after winning the award were for his home town. "I want to take this trophy to Naples because the city is going through a difficult time". version of Candid Camera when he was first given the news that he had won. "I dedicate the prize to my wife," he continued. "She didn't believe it either when I told her".

Cannavaro follows Azzurri greats Roberto Baggio, who won the prize in 1993, Paolo Rossi (1982), Gianni Rivera (1969) and Argentine-Italian Omar Sivori (1961).He is only the third defender to be crowned European Footballer of the Year, after Germany's Matthias Sammer (1996) and Franz Beckenbauer (1972 and 1976). However, Cannavaro is considered the first "out-and-out" defender to take the prize, as the two Germans also assumed midfield responsibilities.