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Real Madrid talisman Cristiano Ronaldo closes in on Messi with fourth Ballon d'Or

By Robert Jones

Cristiano Ronaldo crowned a memorable year by being named the world's best player for the fourth time when he won the 2016 Ballon d'Or last night.

The 31-year-old Portugal and Real Madrid forward topped the poll of 173 journalists worldwide, beating rival Lionel Messi - who has won the award five times - and Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann.

Ronaldo played a crucial role as Real beat city rivals Atletico in May to become European champions for a record 11th time.

Two months later, Portugal triumphed at Euro 2016 in France to lift a major trophy for the first time - despite losing their talisman to injury early in the final.

Ronaldo, who has so far scored 48 goals in 52 games for club and country during 2016, was not able to accept the award in person as he is currently away in Japan as Real prepare for the Fifa Club World Cup.

He has previously won the Ballon d'Or three times, the last in 2014 when it had been merged with the Fifa World Player of the Year accolade.

The award moves Ronaldo clear of three-time winners Marco van Basten, Michel Platini and the late Johan Cruyff and one behind Messi.

Commenting on his triumph, Ronaldo said: "I never thought I'd win it four times, so I am so pleased and so happy.

"Thanks to all of my team-mates, the national team, Real Madrid, all of the people and players who helped me to win this individual award.

"I feel so proud and happy to receive this amazing and beautiful trophy, I am so happy."

France Football announced Ronaldo as the winner at 7pm GMT, but had revealed the top five before the countdown.

Ronaldo's Real team-mate Gareth Bale, who helped drive Wales to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, was sixth.

Some 30 players in all were put forward on the 2016 Ballon d'Or finals list, which included several players based in the English Premier League.

Leicester's title-winning striker Jamie Vardy finished in eighth place, with midfielder Riyad Mahrez, the PFA Player of the Year, ranked seventh.

Paul Pogba became the world's most expensive player when he joined Manchester United from Juventus for £89m in the summer, and he placed 14th.

Sweden forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic also headed to Old Trafford when he left Paris St Germain on a free transfer. The veteran 35-year-old striker finished in 13th position.

West Ham's French playmaker Dimitri Payet ranked joint 17th.

Also included among the nominees were Manchester City pair Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne, along with Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

Along with Griezmann and Messi, Ronaldo has been named on a three-man shortlist for The Best Fifa Men's Player Award 2016, which will be announced in Zurich on January 9.

Belfast Telegraph

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