Soccer

Who will win the FIFA Ballon d'Or?

With the FIFA Ballon d'Or winner scheduled to be announced Monday in Zurich, CBCSports.ca looks at the three players — FC Barcelona teammates Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta — nominated for soccer's top individual award.

Barcelona stars Messi, Xavi and Iniesta up for top award

Nobody can say with any degree of certainty who will win the FIFA Ballon d'Or award as the soccer world's player of the year in 2010.

But one thing we do know for sure is that the honour will go to an FC Barcelona player. That's because the three finalists — Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta — all earn their living with the Catalan club.

With the FIFA Ballon d'Or winner scheduled to be announced Monday at a gala event in Zurich, CBCSports.ca looks at the three players nominated for soccer's top individual award.

Lionel Messi

The Argentine is coming off another fantastic year, cementing his status as a soccer superstar and global sporting icon.

Messi, the reigning world player of the year, played a starring role in Barcelona's La Liga campaign as the stylish Catalan club beat out eternal rivals Real Madrid to retain the Spanish league title.

That Barcelona was able to fend off the challenge of an equally impressive Real Madrid team was in no small part due to Messi, who scored an amazing 34 goals and won the Golden Shoe award as the top goal-scorer in all of Europe.

Messi and Barcelona fell short in the UEFA Champions League, European club soccer's greatest stage, as they were defeated by eventual winners Inter Milan in the semifinals.

The Spanish outfit looked a sure bet to win its second consecutive Champions League crown, but Messi was comfortably contained by the Nerazzurri and couldn't prod his team toward the final.

He also underwhelmed with Argentina at the World Cup. After breezing through the first round, Argentina came crashing down to earth in a 4-0 loss to Germany in the quarter-finals.

Messi drew criticism for his less-than-stellar play and critics continued to hound him as to why he has been unable to duplicate his brilliant Barcelona form while wearing his national team's colours.

No matter, Messi is still one of the best players in the world — if not the best — and at only 23 years of age, he seems destined to eclipse the legend of countryman Diego Maradona, Argentina's most beloved sporting symbol.

Xavi

A vital player for both club and country, Xavi played a starring role in Spain's FIFA World Cup victory in South Africa last summer.

Xavi is one of the classiest players in world soccer, winning universal praise for his flawless passing and brilliant playmaking ability, and the way he can single-handedly dominate games with his exquisite ball possession.

Generally regarded as the best midfielder in the world, Xavi is cool personified, combining languid skills with a fierce competitive streak and will to win.

At age 30, he has already played in 550 games for Barcelona and is the club's all-time leader in appearances, further underlining his importance to the Catalan side.

The Spanish midfielder is unmatched when it comes to his on-field vision, able to see four moves ahead and unlock even the tightest of defences.

Hardly flashy, Xavi is, unquestionably, the heartbeat of the Barcelona juggernaut — as a noted soccer commentator once told CBCSports.ca, "Messi provides the cherry on top, but Xavi bakes the cake."

Unlike Messi, Xavi was influential at the World Cup, earning man-of-the-match honours in Spain's victories over Portugal and Germany in the knockout stages. Incredibly, he completed 544 of his 669 passes in the tournament (a success rate of 81 per cent) and did his usual brilliant job of pulling the creative strings in the final against the Netherlands, helping to guide Spain to its first-ever World Cup victory.

As a result, Xavi left South Africa with his already sparkling reputation further enhanced after collecting a World Cup winner's medal and being named to the tournament's all-star team.

Andres Iniesta

Simply put, Iniesta oozes class.

If not for Xavi, the 26-year-old Spaniard would be considered the best midfielder in the game today, his sublime passes, seamless playmaking acumen and overall versatility making him a crucial player for club and country.

Shy and reserved away from the game, Iniesta is a tyrant once he steps onto the field, especially in the attacking third where he combines speed and mazy dribbling skills to terrorize opposing defenders.

Iniesta may walk in the shadows of Messi and Xavi, but the Spaniard is the type of player that opponents truly stand in awe of and are humbled by his genius.

How good is Iniesta?

So good that he is one of first names on the team sheet for a Spanish national team loaded with world-class midfielders.

So good that he has blocked fellow creative genius Cesc Fabregas of Arsenal, one of the best players in the English Premier League, from earning a regular starting position with Spain.

So good that no less of a star the calibre of Wayne Rooney once heralded him the best player on the planet.

Get the picture?

Like Xavi, Iniesta was brilliant for both the Spanish national team and FC Barcelona in 2010 — although he did miss a healthy portion of the La Liga season due to injuries. 

But he redeemed himself in South Africa, setting up the decisive goal in Spain's 1-0 win over Paraguay in the quarter-finals and scoring the winner in extra time in the final to deliver Spain's first World Cup crown.

And like Xavi, he was named to the World Cup all-star team, mere affirmation of what long-time Spanish soccer observers already knew: that he's among the game's true elite.

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