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Last Updated: Monday, 27 November 2006, 19:51 GMT
Cannavaro 'deserves' Ballon d'Or
By John Sinnott

Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Real Madrid's Fabio Cannavaro
Cannavaro moved to Real Madrid in the summer
Fabio Cannavaro fully deserves to be named European Footballer of the Year, says BBC Sport analyst Leonardo.

The 33-year-old Real Madrid defender, who captained Italy to victory at the World Cup in Germany, is one of the few defenders to have won the prize.

Former Brazilian international and AC Milan forward Leonardo played against Cannavaro in the late 1990s in Serie A.

"Cannavaro has got better and better the older he has got," Leonardo told BBC Sport. "He deserves this award."

Leonardo added: "It is very rare for awards like this to go to a defender. The Ballon d'Or or the Fifa World Player of the Year award are normally given to goalscorers.

"Cannavaro obviously won the award because of the part he played in Italy winning the World Cup last summer.

Cannavaro is so good at cutting the spaces

Leonardo

"That was a competition with a medium technical level, when the big stars didn't really shine and that opened the door for Cannavaro."

During the World Cup Italy conceded just two goals - one of the those was an own goal in a group game against the United Sates, while the other was Zinedine Zidane's penalty in the final.

"Cannavaro has this low centre of gravity, which means he is very fast. He reads the game well and always arrives before the forward when he tackles," Leonardo said of Cannavaro, who became the first defender to win the award since Germany's Mathias Sammer in 1996.

"He has incredible concentration, inner strength, and an superb physical condition. He is not very tall but he is rarely beaten in the air because he jumps so well.

RECENT BALLON D'OR WINNERS
2006 - Fabio Cannavaro
2005 - Ronaldinho
2004 - Andrei Shevchenko
2003 - Pavel Nedved
2002 - Ronaldo
2001 - Michael Owen
2000 - Luis Figo
"It is important to remember the problems Italy had at the start of the tournament because of the scandal involving Serie A clubs.

"Not only was the team was criticised, but they had problems with Francesco Totti fighting to reach peak fitness, while Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino were struggling in attack.

"The strongest part of the team was defence and that had a lot to do with Cannavaro.

"He is always pushing the team. He has this great charisma and people clearly like him."

Leonardo believes Cannavaro, who has won more than 100 caps for Italy, has got better as he has got older.

"If you are a defender and you can stay in a good physical condition then you learn more and more and that is so true of Cannavaro," he said.

"He is very attentive, always has a good idea of the game and what his teammates are doing.

"He is so good at cutting the space and anticipating what the forwards are going to do."

Leonardo also believes that Cannavaro's game has been given an added dimension by working under Fabio Capello for two years at Juventus and now at Real Madrid.

"I think Cannavaro grew up psychologically and that's another reason why he has got better and Capello has helped with this," added Leonardo.

Cannavaro is the fifth Italian to win the award after Omar Sivori (1961), Gianni Rivera (1969), Paolo Rossi (1982) and Roberto Baggio (1993).

"That Italy has not had a winner in the last 13 years is a reflection of Italian football's emphasis on the collective rather than the individual," said Leonardo.

"Since Baggio won the award it has been a little difficult to find the big reference point of Italian football."

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