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5 players who won the Ballon d'Or after impressing at international tournaments

Cristiano Ronaldo had a summer to remember in 2016.
Cristiano Ronaldo had a summer to remember in 2016.
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The Ballon d'Or is one of the most prestigious accolades a footballer can win. It was only in the late 2000s that players from all over the globe became eligible for the award that was conceptualized more than six decades ago. Over the years, there have been many deserving winners while some selections have raised eyebrows.

There have been cases where a player might have had a fabulous club campaign. But if he failed to back up that performance at a major tournament, the Ballon d'Or would elude him. Conversely, a player could have a modest club campaign. But if he sizzled for his country at a major tournament, he could leapfrog several contenders to land the award.

On that note, here's a look at five players who won the Ballon d'Or award after faring well at an international tournament:


#5 Luka Modric (Croatia) - 2018

Luka Modric with his 2018 Ballon d'Or award
Luka Modric with his 2018 Ballon d'Or award

Luka Modric was a surprising and rather contentious winner of the Ballon d'Or in 2018. That's because, arguably, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo fared better than the Croatian that year.

However, Modric won the coveted honor by taking Croatia all the way to the final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Before that, he helped Real Madrid win a third consecutive Champions League title.

Modric equalled his 2017-18 goal tally in just two games in the quadrennial competition. The then 33-year-old also provided an assist in the quarterfinal against hosts Russia. He also scored in the shootout wins over the hosts in the last eight and Denmark in the Round of 16.

Although he did not score or provide an assist in the final, which Croatia lost 2-4 to France, Modric orchestrated play for his team from the middle third.


#4 Fabio Cannavaro (Italy) - 2006

Fabio Cannavaro
Fabio Cannavaro

The Ballon d'Or award is usually won by creative or attacking players. So it came as a surprise when Fabio Cannavaro, a center back by trade, won the coveted honor in 2006. But considering his performances for club and country during the year, Cannavaro was an absolutely deserving winner.

Despite his diminutive stature, the then 33-year-old scored four decisive goals as Juventus won the 2005-06 Scudetto. Of course, they would be later stripped of that title following the infamous Calciopoli scandal.

Nevertheless, Cannavaro produced a defensive masterclass against hosts Germany in the World Cup semifinal that year. A few days later, he held aloft Italy's fourth title in the quadrennial competition before moving to Real Madrid.

One of two Italians in the Ballon d'Or race that year, Cannavaro pipped compatriot Gianluigi Buffon and France's Thierry Henry to land the coveted award.

More than a decade later, Cannavaro remains the last defender, and third overall, to win the Ballon d'Or.

#3 Zinedine Zidane (France) - 1998

Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane is regarded as one of the most creative midfielders to have graced the game. He won the 1998 Ballon d'Or award after a memorable campaign in the FIFA World Cup for hosts France that year.

The then Juventus midfielder scored seven times to help his team successfully defend their Serie A title. At the World Cup, Zidane's campaign imploded spectacularly when he picked up a red card and was suspended for two games.

To his credit, though, the Frenchman scored in the penalty shootout win over Italy in the quarterfinals and helped his team see out Croatia in the semis. Zidane saved his best for last, though. Scoring twice against overwhelming favorites Brazil, he helped France become the newest winners of the competition.

Although he had a rather lean second half of the season, Zizou had done enough to land the Ballon d'Or that year.

Zidane would later move to Real Madrid, where he found success both as a player and manager.


#2 Ronaldo Nazario (Brazil) - 2002

Ronaldo Nazario
Ronaldo Nazario

Ronaldo Nazario, a prolific scorer for both club and country, is one of the most naturally talented goalscorers in the game's history. The Brazilian won his second Ballon d'Or after almost singlehandedly taking his team to a World Cup win after an injury-plagued campaign.

After failing to help his team past France in one of the most lopsided final matches in World Cup history four years prior, Ronaldo and Brazil were not to be denied in 2002. He played as if he had a point to prove, scoring in all but one game as Brazil became the first five-time winners of the World Cup.

His exploits at the tournament earned him a move to Real Madrid that summer, where he hit the ground running. Unsurprisingly, Ronaldo was the undisputed choice for the Ballon d'Or that year.

In the process, the Brazilian became one of the youngest players to win multiple Ballon d'Or awards, in 1997 and 2002.


#1 Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) - 2016

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo

It may be surprising to see a player who won a continental competition for his country rank above three others who led their teams to FIFA World Cup triumphs.

But Cristiano Ronaldo did not win the 2016 Ballon d'Or award only for leading Portugal to glory at Euro 2016. Then 31-year-old came off another incredible 50-goal season for his club (51 to be exact). That included scoring 16 times to help Real Madrid win their second Champions League title in three years.

Ronaldo would follow that up by scoring thrice and racking up as many assists as Portugal reached the Euro 2016 final. An injured Ronaldo tearfully hobbled off after just thirty minutes in the final against France. But more than an hour later, he would cry for a second time on the night. This time, however, they were tears of joy after Portugal became the newest European champions.

Despite being a prolific goalscorer for club and country, Ronaldo had only won titles in club football until then. But the triumph with Portugal that summer lifted a huge weight off Ronaldo's shoulder as the he finally landed an elusive international trophy.

A few months later, it wasn't surprising to see Ronaldo win his third Ballon d'Or in three years, and fourth overall.

The Portugal captain would go on to win another Ballon d'Or in 2017, making him and Lionel Messi the only five-time winners of the accolade.

Edited by Sandeep Banerjee
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