FIFA has released the 23-man shortlist for the Ballon D’Or, the award for the best soccer player in the world. Here are the candidates and a few thoughts.
Argentina: Sergio Aguero (Man City), Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Brazil: Neymar (Santos)
Colombia: Falcao (A. Madrid)
England: Wayne Rooney (Man U)
France: Karim Benzema (France)
Germany: Manuel Neuer (Bayern), Mesut Ozil (R. Madrid)
Italy: Mario Balotelli (Man City), Gigi Buffon (Juventus), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus)
Ivory Coast: Didier Drogba (Shanghai Shenhua), Yaya Toure (Man City)
Netherlands: Robin Van Persie (Man U)
Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo (R. Madrid),
Spain: Xabi Alonso (R. Madrid), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Iker Casillas (R. Madrid), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (R. Madrid), Xavi (Barcelona)
Sweden: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG)
Reign in Spain: The Spanish national team, fresh off three major tournament triumphs, leads with seven players. Twelve of the 23 players on the list are based in La Liga, 11 from Barcelona and Real Madrid. Spanish-based players have filled out the top three every year since 2009.
Messi and Ronaldo: These are the two obvious best players in the world. The award reflects that. The pair have won the last four combined and have both been in the top three for the past five years. Robin Van Persie had a great year, but it is hard to not award it to either of these two based on the club seasons they just had.
A Spanish Player: The Spanish national team may be the world’s best team at club or international level, but how do you disassociate one player from the hive? Sergio Ramos is the only one of our four Spanish players in the Euro 2012 Best XI to make this list.Many felt Iniesta was the best player at Euro 2012, but he had an up and down (by his standards) club season. Xavi? Iker Casillas? It is hard distinguishing just one brilliant player or one player the team could not do without.
Our top three…
Lionel Messi: Messi had 64 goals and 20 assists in 47 starts in La Liga and the Champions League. The competition standard may be low, but that’s still ridiculous. He also has 14 goals in his last 12 games for Argentina. Leo is the best player in the world until someone proves otherwise. No one has proven otherwise.
Cristiano Ronaldo: Ronaldo is a narrow number two to Messi. His 56 goals and 15 assists in La Liga and Champions League play is nothing to disparage. He was on/off at Euro 2012, but when he was on he was the tournament’s most dominant player.
Andrea Pirlo: Left for dead by AC Milan, Pirlo was the centerpiece to Juventus’ unexpected Serie A triumph and Italy’s unexpected run to the Euro 2012 Final. He did this. He also grew a resplendent beard. If Italy had won Euro 2012, he would probably be the winner.
[Photo via Getty]