Fabio Cannavaro, to this day, remains the only defender to have won the FIFA World Player of the Year. This was in huge part because of the Italian’s outstanding performance in the Azzurri’s victorious World Cup campaign in Germany in 2006. The effort won him both the World Player award and the Ballon d’Or, given to the best European player.
“It is unusual for a defender to be sitting alongside Ronaldinho and Zinedine Zidane, who do marvellous things all season, so I saw it as a victory just to be here,” he said at the award ceremony. In fact his assessment wasn’t off the mark. He was probably dwarfed by every central defender in the world then. He wasn’t well built at 5ft 9in, yet was very rarely beaten in the air. Such was his leaping ability that it seemed that he could hang eternally in the air. He was also known for his flying forward scissor-kicks while clearing the ball and his reading of the game was as Italian as it could get.
For four weeks in Germany what one saw was, arguably, the greatest series of performances by a defender in a World Cup. In the absence of the legendary Alessandro Nesta, he was the only permanent member of an ever-changing defence. Still, in seven games (690 minutes) he led a virtually impenetrable backline which conceded just twice. So much so that it even earned him the nickname 'Il muro di Berlino' (The Berlin Wall).
That two of his best performances came in the dramatic semi-final against hosts Germany and the penalty shoot-out win over France in the final was testament to his personality. Incidentally the final was his 100th cap for Italy.
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