Greek skipper ranks highly in coveted Golden Ball award

Greece captain Thodoris Zagorakis, in yet another distinction following the national team’s sensational triumph at Euro 2004 last summer, captured fifth place in the Golden Ball award, a coveted prize for Europe’s best soccer player. The poll was conducted by France Football magazine’s journalists. AC Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko won the award, receiving 175 points, edging club teammate Ronaldinho and Barcelona midfielder Deco, who amassed 139 and 133 votes respectively. Arsenal and France striker Thierry Henry was fourth with 80 votes. Zagorakis, who transferred to Italian club Bologna following Greece’s European title, attracted 44 votes. The list included three other Greece internationals, striker Angelos Charisteas, who ended 11th with 15 votes, defender Traianos Dellas, 17th with five votes, and goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis, who ranked 24th with two votes. «I feel greatly honored by this distinction, which reflects on Greek soccer as a whole, which I share with my teammates, coach, the Greek soccer federation, and the Greek world as a whole,» Zagorakis said. «It’s a reason for attracting an even greater number of youngsters to sports, one of our society’s healthier sectors,» he added. The winner, Shevchenko, had placed fourth last year behind the Czech Republic’s Pavel Nedved, who plays club soccer with Juventus. Shevchenko is the third Ukrainian to win the award, after Oleg Blokhin in 1975 and Igor Belanov in 1986, and the seventh Milan player. Shevchenko, 28, has scored 11 goals in 15 Italian league games this season for second-placed Milan. He scored 24 goals last season. «I would like to thank all the people who have helped me win it and I would like to dedicate the Golden Ball to the people of Ukraine,» Shevchenko told Canal Plus television. «I am Ukrainian and proud to be one. It is hard to talk about the situation in Ukraine, but the people deserve a democracy.» Meanwhile, another member of Greece’s Euro 2004 winning side, the stylish defender Yiourkas Seitaridis, added another distinction to his collection over the weekend, the Intercontinental Cup with his club Porto. The reigning European champions defeated their South American counterparts Once Caldas of Colombia 8-7 in a penalty shootout after a goalless draw to win the title. The game was played in Japan. Seitaridis is the first Greek to win the title.