Wambach joins Messi in reeling in FIFA year-end honors
Mia Hamm, you've got company.
US women's national team star Abby Wambach was named FIFA Women's Player of the Year on Monday, beating out US teammate Alex Morgan and five-time winner Marta of Brazil to become the second American woman ever to win the honor. Hamm took the award in 2001 and '02.
"I'm very, very surprised," Wambach said. "Individual honors only happen if you have great teams and great people who have given you the chance to be here. Not only do I think Marta and Alex could have won, but many other players could have been here as well. Thanks to FIFA, thanks to US Soccer and thanks to all the fans and my family for putting me in this position. I don't think of myself as the best player in the world, just a player who plays on the best team in the world."
Wambach finished first in voting by coaches and captains of women's national teams from around the world. Each ballot allowed the coaches and captains to name their top three players, with a first-place nomination worth five points, and positions two and three rewarded with three points and one point, respectively.
Together, Wambach and Morgan accounted for 55 goals during a 2012 that saw the USWNT win a third straight Olympic gold medal. Between them, that figure tied a record for most goals scored by a duo in US history that was set in 1991 by Michelle Akers and Carin Jennings.
Their former coach, Pia Sunhage, was also named World Coach of the Year, her first such honor after a five-year term in charge of the USWNT that came to an end in September when the Swede stepped down. She finished her career as US head coach with an 88-6-10 record, including 20-1-1 in 2012 before leaving to take the job as head coach of the Swedish womens' national team.
"Pia's time as our head coach was one of the greatest in our program's history and she did a fantastic job with the team this year," US Soccer Federation president Suni Gulati said in a statement. "The work that she and her staff did in guiding the team to wins in all six games at the Olympics was tremendous, and she is certainly deserving of this award."
On the men's side, Lionel Messi struck gold again. For the fourth consecutive year, the Barcelona and Argentina striker won the FIFA Ballon d'Or award, passing three-time winners such as Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Michel Platini, Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten to become the first player to collect the award four times.
"To tell you the truth, this is really quite unbelievable," said Messi, who scored a record 91 goals between Barça and national team duty. "The fourth award that I have had is just too great for words."
Spanish national team head coach Vicente del Bosque won World Coach of the Year on the men's side for guiding Spain to their second consecutive European Championship title.