Lionel Messi captained Argentina to a third World Cup victory in Qatar last year. AFP

Lionel Messi has won his eight Ballon D'Or on Monday, extending his lead as the soccer player who has won the award the most and adding arguments to the debate about whether he is the sport's greatest of all time.

The Argentine beat Norwegian Erling Haaland, Belgian Kevin De Bruyne and French Kylian Mbappe, much younger and called to dominate future seasons. Spanish Aitana Bonmati won the women's Ballon D'Or as the best female player in the world.

For the 36-year-old, however, leading his country to victory in the 2022 World Cup, ending a 36-year drought, proved key to take the award. Messi scored seven goals and gave four assists in the competition, in which he was also named the best player of the tournament.

Considered the most prestigious award in soccer, the Ballon D'Or is given to the player who gets the most votes from 100 journalists from all over the world. They have to select the season's three best players based on criteria such as individual performance, contributions to their teams, trophies won and fair play.

Fellow Argentines Lautaro Martinez, Julian Alvarez and Emiliano Martinez were also among the 30 nominees. Martinez also won the "Lev Yashin" award as the season's best goalkeeper.

Prominent journalists had already anticipated Messi would take home the award. "Understand all the indications are set to be confirmed but Messi will be the final winner once again," said Italian Fabrizio Romano. Argentine colleague Gaston Edul has done so as well.

Statistics had also given Messi the highest changes of winning. Questioned by media outlets, Google's bard also picked the Argentine.

This one is likely to have been Messi's last chance to stand at the top of global soccer, considering that he has moved on to the U.S. to play for Inter Miami at the MLS, a lower-caliber league that is not part of the global elite. He still has a leading role in the Argentine national team, but it is unlikely his performances there can have as much weight as those who still fight for the Champions League or the English, Spanish or Italian tournaments, especially when the next World Cup is more than two years away.

Messi's main competitor for two decades, both at an individual and collective level, Cristiano Ronaldo, is also spending his last seasons away from the elite, having gone to Saudi Arabia. Ronaldo, who has won 5 Ballon D'Or, was not among the 30 nominees this year.

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