It’s the usual suspects versus the consummate team player as FIFA announced its three finalists for world soccer player of the year.
Given that this is still a team game, it’s time for Andrés Iniesta of Spain to win the Ballon d’Or.
Of this year’s trio, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo was the last player to win soccer’s highest individual honor before Lionel Messi of Argentina captured the last three trophies. Iniesta is the newcomer, and all he’s done is led his nation to one of its best seasons ever.
FIFA will present the Ballon d’Or award at a ceremony in Zurich, Switzerland, on January 7, 2013.
Here’s a closer look at the three finalists:
The 27-year-old attacking midfielder is probably the longshot despite leading Portugal to the European championship semifinal.
Euro 2012 was one of his better individual performances. He scored twice against a favored Dutch team and again versus Czech Republic with his nation’s hopes riding on his every move. As Ronaldo goes, so goes Portugal.
In club football, he scored 46 times as Real Madrid won the Spanish league and advanced to the Champions League semifinal, scoring twice against Germany’s Bayern Munich.
While many might overlook him because he’s been playing so long at such a high level, Ronaldo is just reaching his peak form and may be around to win this award again. Just not this year.
A definitive striker, Messi continues to add to his legacy this season as he approaches the all-time record for goals in a calendar year.
His most startling statistic this season is 82 goals in all competitions, three behind the record with two months remaining in 2012. Gerd Muller scored 85 for Germany in 1972, a record Messi should beat handily any day now.
He also helped Barca win Spain’s Copa del Rey and became the squad’s all-time leading scorer when he scored his 233rd career marker back in March. Add that to 14 Champions League goals in a single campaign, and you have arguably soccer’s greatest scorer ever … all at age 25.
Messi also led Argentina to a dominating performance in early qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The team is tops after the first round with 6 wins and two draws in nine games, and will likely garner plenty of attention in Brazil.
While certainly impressive, Argentina has little to crow about this season, and this is a FIFA award, not a club award. It shouldn’t be enough for Messi to win, not when you compare Argentina to Spain, where we have our most deserving candidate…
Already the winner of numerous trophies this season, Iniesta led Spain to a second straight European championship this summer.
He was named Euro 2012 player of the final and the tournament. He also won top player in Europe ahead of – who else? – Messi and Ronaldo.
It’s easy to miss the 28-year-old midfielder, and not because he’s just 5-7 and 143 pounds. Iniesta is not a goal-scorer (four in 24 games this season) and he doesn’t demand attention off the field.
His strength rests in his ability to make players around him better. For such a player, it’s better to watch his team’s results, and you have none better than Spain in 2012.
Spain absolutely dominated the European championships this season, winning five and tying once at the tournament and holding opponents to 1 goal while scoring 12. They have 7 wins and 2 draws in World Cup qualifying and Euro 2012 games this season.
While the club is chock full of superstars, it’s Iniesta’s determined play at the center that brings it all together, and why he should win the ultimate personal accolade given in the ultimate team sport.