The FIFA Ballon d’Or (Golden Ball) is the pinnacle individual achievement in soccer. It is awarded to the best player over the past year.
This year’s Ballon d’Or finalists will have a World Cup winner in elite company with two of the best players in the world. Germany and Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer joins previous winners Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as this year’s top three, revealed Monday by FIFA. The winner will be determined on January 12 in Zurich.
Neuer is the first goalkeeper to be nominated as a finalist for the award since Italian shot-stopper Gianluigi Buffon in 2006, when the award was for the best player in Europe’s top leagues. His efforts for both club and country helped Bayern win the Bundesliga in record-setting pace in the 2013-14 season and Germany their fourth World Cup, conceding only four goals in seven matches for Die Mannschaft. He’s got stiff competition in the likes of the next two players, who between them have won eight Ballon d’Ors.
Three-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo is in contention for his fourth Ballon d’Or and second consecutive win, as he tries to keep pace with his rival Lionel Messi. Ronaldo was his usual self in club play for Real Madrid. He’s responsible for 20 of the team’s 48 goals this season so far for the current La Liga table-toppers. His 17 of Real’s 41 goals boosted the Merengues to La Decima, their tenth European title, when they won the 2013-14 Champions League over crosstown rival Atletico Madrid. Although his World Cup campaign with Portugal was a forgettable one for the team, he gave the vital cross in injury time that helped his nation tie the United States in group play when the Americans were on the verge of a huge win.
Five-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi has been the talk of the footballing world over the past couple weeks, with his record-breaking goal tallies in both La Liga and the UEFA Champions League. Messi broke the Spanish league’s goalscoring record in phenomenal fashion, recording a hat-trick against Sevilla at the Camp Nou on November 22. He would become the UEFA Champions League’s all-time leading scorer just three days later in the same fashion – a hat-trick against Cypriot club APOEL Nicosia. For Argentina, his play was vital in leading them to the World Cup final, where they fell to the Germans in extra time. He was given the Golden Ball as the best player in the tournament as a silver lining.