News Column

Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta Running for World Soccer Player Title

November 30, 2012

Barry Whelan

Three-times reigning world footballer of the year Lionel Messi is joined by Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona team-mate Andres Iniesta in the players nominated Thursday for the 2012 title.

The Spanish-based trio was chosen from a shortlist of 23 for the Ballon d'Or. The winner will be announced at a world governing body FIFA gala in Zurich on January 7.

The names of the three players, selected by national team captains and coaches as well as media representatives, came as no surprise.

Brazil's former playing star Ronaldo, also a three-time Ballon d'Or winner, told reporters at the announcement in Sao Paulo that Messi remained for him the favourite to keep the title he has won for the past three years.

"I think there is no doubt that at one point Cristiano Ronaldo will win the Ballon d'Or," he said.

"Of the three Messi and Ronaldo are still quite ahead of Iniesta, who is a great player, but I think Messi is still a step ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo."

Messi, 25, has had another outstanding year, surpassing Pele's tally of 75 goals in a calendar year and is nearing German legend Gerd Mueller's all-time record of 85 from 1972.

He missed out on major titles with the exception of the Copa del Rey but has been in outstanding form for Argentina, become Barcelona's all-time leading goalscorer and broken the record for the number of Champions League goals in a single season (14).

Cristiano Ronaldo may have his best opportunity of beating Messi to the award he won in 2008, after winning La Liga with Real Madrid, scoring 46 goals and helping Portugal reach the semi-finals of Euro 2012.

Among his achievements this year were two goals against Barcelona to become the first man to score at least one goal in six consecutive clasicos.

Iniesta has continued to be an influential player for Barcelona and Spain where he helped the national team retain its European title at Euro 2012 and was named the tournament's best player.

His form this year was recently acknowledged by sports journalists when he was selected for the UEFA Best Player in Europe award, ahead of Messi and Ronaldo.

Ronaldo meanwhile said that compatriot Neymar, who was on the 23-man shortlist for the Ball d'Or, would have to move to Europe to achieve worldwide acclaim.

"Neymar will either have to play in Europe or in 2014 (at the World Cup) will have to play great for the national team," he said.

"He is the best player in Brazil but very little is seen of him in Europe. We know his potential and he deserves to be on the shortlist of three but the world does not know about his football ... The shortest path is to play for a big team in Europe."

Also named at a news conference attended by FIFA president Joseph Blatter, with Ronaldo and Brazil's women's icon Marta on the podium, were Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, Barcelona's former coach Pep Guardiola and Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho as the three candidates for coach of the year.

Brazilian five-time winner Marta and US players Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach were selected as nominees for the women's footballer of the year.

The nominees for the women's coach of the year are Bruno Bini (France), Norio Sasaki (Japan) and Pia Sundhage (Sweden).

Fifteen forwards were named to complete the the list of 55 players shortlisted for the FIFA FIFpro World XI. They were: Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli, Karim Benzema, Edinso Cavani, Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto'o, Radamel Falcao, Mario Gomez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Messi, Neymar, Robin van Persie, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Luis Suarez.

Nominees for the Puskas award for best goal of the year were Miroslav Stoch, Falcao and Neymar.

Slovakia's Stoch was chosen for a goal for Fenerbahce against Genclerbirligi in the Turkish league on March 3; Falcao for an overhead kick for Atletico Madrid against America de Cali on May 19; Neymar for Santos against Internacional during the Copa Libertadores on March 7.

Ibrahimovic's acrobatic long-range overhead kick for Sweden in a friendly international against England on November 14 - hailed as one of the greatest goals ever - came too late to be considered for the award.

Source: Copyright 2012 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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