Barcelona's Lionel Messi beats Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and teammate Xavi to win third straight Ballon d'Or

The Argentine has emulated Michel Platini, the only other player to win the award three times in a row, and joins Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten on a trio of successes

Fifa Ballon d'Or winner 2011:
  FC Barcelona - Argentina
Third Consecutive Award

Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona and Argentina has beaten Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and team-mate Xavi to claim the FIFA Ballon d'Or award for the best player of 2011.

It is the third straight Ballon d'Or success for Messi, who has now won the first two awards since the prestigious prize was merged with FIFA's World Player of the Year gong in 2010.

Messi was the clear favorite to claim the title after helping Barca to a third straight Liga title in 2011 and a second Champions League success in three years.

Lionel MESSI

Club: FC Barcelona
Date of Birth:
24 June 1987 (age 24)
Defining moment of 2011: Running through the Madrid defence at the Bernabeu to score a stunning second in a 2-0 Champions League semi-final win
Simply The Best

Messi beat teammates Andres Iniesta and Xavi to the award in 2010, even though his colleagues had shone for Spain in La Roja's World Cup success in South Africa.

This time around there appeared little doubt he would claim the prize, as the undoubted star of a Barca side dominating domestically and on the continent in 2010-11.

Barca claimed La Liga and the Champions League last term, losing out to Real Madrid only in the final of the Copa del Rey in April, when Ronaldo rose to head the winner and secure his side's first silverware since 2007-08.

Messi enjoyed the last laugh over his Portuguese rival in 2011, however, claiming five trophies overall with Barca as the Catalans picked up the Spanish Supercopa, the UEFA Super Cup and the World Club Cup later in the year.

The Argentine forward, still only 24, has now drawn level with three-time winners Michel Platini
[the only other player to win three in a row], Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten.

And Cruyff, who has watched Messi emerge at Barca over the last few years, believes the Argentine can go on to claim the award six or seven times.

Messi also came out on top in the 50 countdown of the world's best players in 2010-11, earlier on this year.

The Argentine scored 59 goals in 70 appearances for club and country in 2011, including 55 in 57 for Barcelona. He also racked up an incredible 35 assists in the calendar year.