International Soccer
I wouldn't have picked Cannavaro, but I understand

Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Stoppage Time Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Italian Fabio Cannavaro became the first defender to ever capture the FIFA World Player of the Year award recently.

The honor is usually reserved for a dynamic striker who has made a habit of hitting the back of the net, or a dazzling playmaker in the midfield who blends both creativity and an all-around game to make his team better. Every once in a while, an incredible year between the posts will earn a deserving netminder a nomination as a finalist for the hardware, but not a defender.

I wouldn't have picked Cannavaro, but I understand.

Cannavaro does boast an impressive resume that includes a World Cup title as captain of the Italian team. He also helped Juventus to the Serie A title last season, before it was stripped due to the match-fixing scandal, and captured the 2006 European Footballer of the Year honor.

Fabio Cannavaro
Fabio Cannavaro was a major part of World Cup champion Italy's team as well as Serie A champion Juventus's team.

The Italians defensive performance in this past summer's World Cup was nothing short of amazing. The Azzuri allowed just one goal in group play, which happened to be a horrendous own-goal against the United States. They were equally stingy in the knockout round, as they blanked both Australia and Ukraine before holding host nation Germany scoreless over 120 minutes en route to an appearance in the finals. They conceded an early penalty kick against France, but still ended up capturing the crown.

Much of Italy's success defensively has to go to Cannavaro, who anchored the sturdy back line and routinely drew the assignment of marking the opposition's top scorer.

However, it is much harder to recognize lock-down defending than it is to notice a sensational goal or a flashy point-blank save by a goalkeeper. This should not diminish Cannavaro's accomplishments this season, it just makes them tougher to see.

I wouldn't have picked Cannavaro, but I understand.

The Italian international edged French icon Zinedine Zidane and Brazilian magician Ronaldinho, the two-time defending winner of the award.

When the short list of finalists came out in November, there could very well have been three totally different names announced without any serious objections.

One name that was surprisingly left off the short list of finalists was French striker Thierry Henry. The Arsenal sniper was the only player to appear in both the Champions League final and World Cup final, the two most prestigious tournaments on the soccer calendar.
Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry was the only player who was part of both the Champions League final and the World Cup final.
He was the top goal-scoring threat on both teams and finished the 2005-06 Premiership season with 27 goals in league play. Henry currently has six tallies to his name in the EPL this season, but has been limited to only 11 starts because of neck, back and hamstring problems. He may have received greater consideration if his side would have won either title, as Arsenal fell short against Barcelona in the Champions League and France was defeated on penalty kicks by Italy in the World Cup.

Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon could very well have replaced Cannavaro as a finalist because the two are very much connected. Like Cannavaro, Buffon played a big role in Italy's air-tight defense. While Buffon had the luxury of a stalwart defender like Cannavaro playing in front of him, Cannavaro had to get a confidence boost from knowing that one of the best goalkeepers in the world was there behind him to erase any mistakes. If Cannavaro is given such a great deal of credit for the defensive record of Italy, Buffon should also be recognized for his achievements.

Those two players were certainly worthy of inclusion in the final three, but let's now deal with a player who was named on the short list, Ronaldinho.

The Brazilian midfielder certainly deserves credit for leading Barcelona to the Champions League crown, the most prestigious club tournament in Europe. He exhibited flair as both a goal-scorer and creator in the Barcelona midfield, and helped Barca to the 2005-06 La Liga title.

There is no denying Ronaldinho's accomplishments with his club side, but Brazil's disappointing effort in the World Cup greatly diminishes those achievements.

The defending World Cup champs exited quietly despite being one of the tournament favorites as they were bounced by France in the quarterfinals. Ronaldinho did little to prove himself as the worlds most dominant player, as he failed to find the net and recorded just one assist in the competition. With numbers like those, you can put a big slash through his name.

That leaves us with Zidane, my choice for the award.

Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane went on to win the Golden Ball, given to the most outstanding player at the World Cup.

I know, it is a sentimental pick, and many people will write him off after that little head-butting incident that occurred in the World Cup final, but without Zidane, France would not have sniffed final.

After the French narrowly advanced past the group stage, Zizou took his play to the next level and carried and underachieving team on his back.

After scoring the insurance tally against Spain to ensure passage to the quarterfinals, Zidane was the best player on the field in the team's showdown with Brazil. He created numerous chances and controlled the middle of the field for France. In the 57th minute, he found Henry at the back post for the lone goal of the match, pushing France into the semifinals.

He then scored the lone goal in his club's win over Portugal to take France to the final, where he also converted from the penalty spot to give his squad an early lead.

We all know what happened in the second period of extra time. Italian defender Marco Materazzi said a few things about Zidane's sister, he lost his cool, and proceeded to plant his head firmly in the chest of the surprised Italian, earning him a red card. France went on to lose on penalty kicks, and while it might have helped to have Zidane taking one of the kicks, it certainly did not cost France another World Cup.

Zidane went on to win the Golden Ball, given to the most outstanding player at the World Cup. This distinction, more than any other, should stand out as the most important of all in 2006. It means that when the spotlight was brightest, Zidane was at his best.

He didn't do anything special at the club level, in fact he retired after the World Cup and has not stepped onto the pitch since July. However, he was the one player who stood up when it mattered most this year, and that is why he is my choice for FIFA World Player of the Year.

In a year when no player clearly separated himself from the rest, Cannavaro took home the award.

I wouldn't have picked him, but I understand.

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