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POLL: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and... ?

FIFA are set to announce the three candidates for the 2012 Ballon  d’Or in Sao Paulo, Brazil tonight.

The shortlisted 23 footballers are:

Sergio Agüero (Argentina), Xabi Alonso (Spain), Mario Balotelli (Italy), Karim Benzema (France), Gianluigi Buffon (Italy), Sergio Busquets (Spain), Iker Casillas (Spain), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Didier Drogba (Côte d’Ivoire), Radamel Falcao (Colombia), Zlatan Ibrahimovi? (Sweden), Andrés Iniesta (Spain), Lionel Messi (Argentina), Manuel Neuer (Germany), Neymar (Brazil), Mesut Özil (Germany), Gerard Piqué (Spain), Andrea Pirlo (Italy),  Sergio Ramos (Spain), Wayne Rooney (England), Yaya Touré (Côte d’Ivoire), Robin van Persie (Netherlands), Xavi (Spain).

Lionel Messi, with his phenomenal performances for Barcelona, will be leading the army along with Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo. Whilst Messi is on course to break the individual scoring record in a calendar year, it was Cristiano Ronaldo who made his goals count by leading his team to a title-winning campaign. Both players suffered Champions League defeats in the semi-finals of the competition.

But, who would be the third player in the short-list?

Sergio Aguero, Xabi Alonso and Mario Balotelli.

Sergio Aguero: Of all the blockbuster signings that Manchester City made, he was one of the most important players. Throughout the season, it was Aguero who dragged City to the league title last season. Not only did he chip in with important goals when the team needed, but he also scored the title winning goal in the last game of the season.

Xabi Alonso: ‘Mr. Reliable’ Xabi Alonso played an important role in Spain’s Euro Campaign, and was equally crucial in Real Madrid’s La Liga triumph. His two goals against France made sure that Spain were still in the tournament. Always composed in his defensive work, he is also known for the quality of his searching passes, the accuracy of his free-kicks and his all-round intelligent play.

Mario Balotelli: Often castigated for his off-field antics, Mario Balotelli has time and again proven that he is a talented football player who can score goals when the team needs it the most. His performance in the Euros was lauded by everyone and the anguish in his face when Italy lost to Spain in the final showed how much he wants to win.

Karim Benzema, Gianluigi Buffon and Sergio Busquets.

Karim Benzema: The French striker was in great touch last season and scored 32 time, creating another 12 for his team-mates in all competitions. Although his impact in the Euro tournament wasn’t as fruitful as it should have been, Benzema is well worthy to be the third contender in the list.

Gianluigi Buffon: Italy international goal keeper Gianluigi Buffon is another top contender, after the legendary shot stopper helped Juventus remain unbeaten throughout the 2011/12 season.

Sergio Busquets: He is a very important part of the Spanish national team, with his presence helping the defence cope with any counter attacking threats from the opposition. His role is especially necessary for the Barcelona team, with the ageing Puyol needing a helping hand.

Iker Casillas, Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba.

Iker Casillas: Spain’s and Real Madrid No. 1 Iker Casillas can be the first goalkeeper in the top three list after Oliver Kahn, after the goalkeeper had a brilliant season with Spain and Real Madrid. Without him, Spain would not be European champions, and Real Madrid would probably not have won the Spanish league title. The performance shouldn’t go unnoticed for sure.

Didier Drogba: If there was any player out of the 22 that lined up at the kick off of the Champions League final who deserved to get a winners’ medal, it was Didier Drogba. He has pulled Chelsea out of many a quagmire and it was the same last season too. The importance of his goal in the final cannot be underlined enough as it gave Chelsea their first Champions League trophy.

Andres Iniesta, Neymar and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Andres Iniesta: Most likely to be the third one in the list, Andres Iniesta had a magical campaign with Spain, eventually winning his second European Championship title and being named as the best player, not only of the final, but also of the entire tournament. He was also the winner of the UEFA Best Player in Europe award, ahead of Messi and Ronaldo, certainly a big name in this list.

Neymar: After Messi, if there is any player that is destined to attain the same stardom, it has to be Neymar. He is an incredible talent and has shown his skills on the field, bamboozling defences with his trickery. Still at a very young age, a lot is expected from this forward in the years to come.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Wherever Zlatan has gone, he has ended up with the winner’s medal. He is capable of scoring the ordinary as well as the extraordinary goals and is always a handful for opposition defenders. While he has not yet achieved success with Sweden, the fact that they are able to qualify for the final round of international tournaments is mainly due to Zlatan.

Mesut Özil, Gerard Piqué and Manuel Neuer.

Mesut Özil: The German wizard has been no short of assists and goals last season and was also one of the stand-out performers in clashes against Barcelona. The poor Euro campaign can be a dark cloud for the player, but the young lad is certainly not stopping by any means.

Gerard Piqué: Pique is the backbone for Barcelona as well as Spain. His interceptions and timely tackles have been very important in ensuring that the opposition do not score a goal. He can read the game very well, thereby able to nip any attacks very early.

Manuel Neuer: A surprise in the list, the ex-Schalke goalkeeper had an average season, failing to win any title. His penalty saves against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka were crucial, but were they crucial enough?

Radamel Falcao, Sergio Ramos and Robin Van Persie.

Radamel Falcao:  Falcao scored 24 goals in 34 games, finishing third top scorer behind Messi and Ronaldo in the league. In the Europa League he scored 12 goals in 15 games, tallying up 36 goals in all competitions. His brace against Athletic Bilbao in the  UEFA Europa League final ensured that he won the competition twice in a row.

Sergio Ramos: Ramos played his best football last season, making a switch from the right-back position to a more central role. His never-say-die attitude along with an eye for the goal was crucial for both Spain and Real Madrid.

Robin van Persie: One of the most prolific strikers over the past year, Robin van Persie fired Arsenal to 3rd position in the Premier League, against all the odds, securing champions league football for another season. But he couldn’t carry the form into the Euros and finished with just 1 goal.

Leo Messi, Andrea Pirlo and Wayne Rooney.

Andrea Pirlo: The 33-year old midfielder had a brilliant season with Juventus and Italy, and he stands as one of the major contenders along with Andres Iniesta and Iker Casillas.

Wayne Rooney: Wayne Rooney had yet another scintillating season in the premier league. While Manchester United may have missed out on the league title on goal difference, there was no doubting the fact that it was Rooney who was instrumental in taking them close to another well-deserved title.

Xavi and Yaya Touré.

Xavier Hernandez: The Spanish maestro had a rather dull season in comparison to his usual self, but yet he picked up his fair share of knock in the season.

Yaya Toure: One of the best midfielders over the past few seasons, Yaya Toure has become the most important part of the Manchester City squad. His importance is underlined by the fact that during his absence, City stumbled and dropped a lot of points, giving Manchester United a big lead. But once he was back in the team, he drove them from the midfield and was instrumental in City’s league success.

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