For only the second time since 2008, a man not named Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo has won the Ballon d’Or for the best soccer player in the world.
Karim Benzema, the French star who plays with the La Liga powerhouse Real Madrid, hoisted his first career Ballon d’Or in Paris on Monday, as the 34-year-old was named the best player in the world after a vote.
It was hard not to look at Benzema’s 2021-22 season with Real Madrid and not give him this prestigious award, after scoring 15 UEFA Champions League goals, with two assists sprinkled in, over 12 games. His performance was the main reason why they walked away with the title over Liverpool.
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He also had 27 goals and 12 assists in 32 matches during Real Madrid’s La Liga matches, as they went on to win their 35th title in club history.
Benzema is the first French winner of the trophy since Zinedine Zidane took the crown in 1998.
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Messi would have gotten a three-peat if he was named the best player in the world, though no awarded was given in 2020. Luka Modric, a Real Madrid teammate of Benzema’s, won the award in 2018 to break up the Messi-Ronaldo back-and-forth game.
Behind Benzema in the voting was Sadio Mane of Liverpool and Bayern Munich, while Kevin de Bruyne (Bayern Munich/Barcelona) came in third place. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich/Barcelona) and Mohamed Salah rounded out the top five players in the world by the votes.
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On the women side, Alexia Putellas of Spain, the 28-year-old superstar, won it for the second year in a row, and she didn’t even play the summer due to an ACL injury. Still, playing for Barcelona, she had 18 goals and 15 assists in Primera Division play.
Alex Morgan, USA’s top player who played for the Orlando Pride and San Diego Wave last season, finished 13th in the voting.
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No American finished in the top 25 for the men’s award.
Benzema will be playing for the French national team during the FIFA World Cup next month in Qatar.