ZURICH (AP) – Lionel Messi won the FIFA Ballon d'Or award on Monday as an expected and deserved 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 champion 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 percent 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 percent and Iniesta scored 10.91 percent.
''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.
Messi led a dominating 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 its 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, edging teammate Alex Morgan to become the first American winner since Mia Hamm got the 2002 award.
Pia Sundhage, who also led the U.S. team to gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, won the coaching award for women's football, beating two male candidates.
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 honor merged with the Ballon d'Or prize awarded to Europe-based players since 1956 by `France Football' magazine.
Messi's goal-scoring record shone in a relatively disappointing year by the high standards of the Catalan club which won just one trophy, the Spanish Cup, in 2012.
Madrid, sparked by Ronaldo's 46 league goals, took back the La Liga title and Barcelona went down to a shock defeat in the Champions League semifinals to eventual winner Chelsea.
Still, Messi defied critics who believe his standards drop for Argentina by scoring 12 goals for the national team in 2012, including five at a goal-a-game rate in 2014 World Cup qualifiers to ensure it leads the South American qualifying group.
Messi's goals also helped give Barcelona, under new coach Tito Vilanova, a runaway lead in the Spanish league this season thanks to a record start of 17 wins and one draw.
Wambach's goals at the Olympics earned her the FIFA prize at the age of 32. She placed third last year.