Lionel Messi won the FIFA Ballon d'Or award yesterday as an expected reward for his astonishing 91-goal year for Barcelona and Argentina in 2012.
Aged just 25, Messi has now been voted the world's best player for an unprecedented fourth straight year as the outstanding talent of his generation.
Messi beat his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo of Spanish champions Real Madrid and Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta, who starred as Spain won the 2012 European Championship.
"To tell the truth, this is really unbelievable to get the fourth award. I am so nervous," a typically low-key Messi said, in Spanish, though he wore a black tuxedo jacket with a white-spotted pattern in an unexpectedly flamboyant touch.
Messi's fourth award lifted him above three-time FIFA winners Zinedine Zidane of France and Brazil's Ronaldo. The old Ballon d'Or trophy for players in Europe was won three times by France great Michel Platini and Netherlands forwards Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten.
Messi received 41.60 per cent of the points in votes cast by national team coaches and captains, plus invited journalists, who gave their top-three lists from an original slate of 23 players.
Ronaldo got 23.68 per cent and Iniesta 10.91 per cent. Ronaldo scored the highest proportion of his points from media, while Messi scored best with coaches.
"Whether I win or not, it doesn't matter, it's a privilege to be here," Ronaldo, the 2008 winner, said earlier when sharing a news conference platform with Messi.
The two national team captains downplayed their rivalry, though neither chose to vote for the other.
Messi led a dominant night for Spanish teams and the United States women's Olympic champions at FIFA's annual celebration of world football.
Vicente del Bosque won the coaching award for guiding Spain to their third straight major tournament victory at Euro 2012.
Abby Wambach, who scored five goals at the London Games, was named the best women's player. Teammate Alex Morgan was also nominated to become the first American winner since Mia Hamm got the 2002 award.
Pia Sundhage, who also led the US team to gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, won the coaching award for women's football - then sang from the stage in her acceptance speech.
Barcelona players have now won 10 times in the 22 years that FIFA has awarded a world's-best prize. In 2010, the FIFA world player honour merged with the Ballon d'Or prize awarded to Europe-based players since 1956 by France Football magazine.