Homare Sawa of Japan ended Brazilian forward Marta's five-year reign as FIFA player of the year on Monday in Zurich. American Abby Wambach was also a finalist.
Sawa, who led Japan to the title in the 2011 Women's World Cup, earned 28.5 percent of votes by national team coaches and captains, as well as journalists from around the world.
Japan beat Germany, Sweden and the United States during its run to the World Cup title. Sawa, 33, had five goals and was named tournament MVP.
Sawa said in a news conference Monday she had always dreamed of playing at the top but "what happened last year has by far exceeded my expectations.
"I am proud to be sitting here today alongside such legends as Marta," she said.
Japan's women's team, the Nadeshiko, earned a heroes' welcome upon their return from the World Cup. The victory gave their country a measure of relief following last March's earthquake and tsunami.
"She's an iconic figure for the Nadeshiko," Japan coach Norio Sasaki. "She perfectly symbolizes the kind of football that our team tries to pull off. I'd like the whole world to learn about our football through Sawa, that's why she's our captain."
Before the awards, Wambach and Marta said they have not committed to playing in the United States for the Women's Professional Soccer league.
Marta, who played for the Western New York Flash last season, said because league has been reduced to five teams she may explore "possibilities" to play in Europe. Wambach said qualifying for the London Olympics is her priority.
The award for the FIFA Women's Football Coach of the Year was presented for only the second time at the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala on Monday as Norio Sasaki became Silvia Neid's proud successor. The Japanese national team manager prevailed from a three-strong shortlist which also included USA coach Pia Sundhage and Bruno Bini of France.
Sasaki could hardly have wished for a better 2011. The 53-year-old steered Japan to a historic success at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011™ in Germany, encouraging attractive flowing football and eventually defeating USA on penalties in the final to claim the Nadeshiko's first world crown.
After the ceremony, Sasaki spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about the highlights of his career to date and his pride at winning the award.
FIFA.com: How does it feel to be voted FIFA Women's Football Coach of the Year?
Norio Sasaki: I am so honoured. Just being here at such an amazing event together with my family makes me feel so grateful. I'm so emotional and I'm feeling very happy. Just being here is one thing, but winning this award is simply overwhelming.
Having won the FIFA Women's World Cup in the summer, how does this individual award rate among your career highlights?
Of course winning the World Cup was a fantastic moment – both for us and Japan. This award is recognition from the world of football for our courage and effort. It's something I want to take back to Japan, where the people are so happy right now.
What did you think about Homare Sawa being voted the FIFA Women's World Player?
She is the best. She's been with us since I started coaching the Japanese women’s national team in 2008. I had full confidence in her ability and talent and it's been confirmed this year. She was appointed captain as soon as I started and there has been a tremendous amount of pressure on her, but she has fulfilled her responsibilities admirably. I'm full of admiration for her courage and her ability. She made me into the person I am today, something I'm very grateful for.
Finally, what are your goals for 2012?
Since 2008 it has been our goal to win the World Cup and then to win the Olympics the following year. No team has ever managed that, so that's our target. Together with all the girls we're going to achieve that this year.
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