Real Madrid's Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo is joined by the Barcelona duo of Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta on FIFA's three-man shortlist for the 2012 Ballon d'Or. The nominations, made from a long-list of 23 that included Ronaldo's team mate Iker Casillas and the final third of the Catalans' hugely impressive attacking trio, Xavi Hernandez, were unveiled in a ceremony in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The winners will be announced in Zurich, Switzerland, on 7 January.
Messi continues to perform at incredible levels and must be considered favourite to win the award, his fourth consecutive FIFA accolade. Should he win the award, the 25 year old Argentinean will set another record - the first player to win four consecutive Ballon d'Ors; he is already one of only two to have won it thrice in a row, with the other being present UEFA president Michel Platini of France.
The Barcelona talisman scored 50 goals in the Spanish League last season, in a run of games that broke a 60-year record at the Nou Camp club for the most number of goals ever scored for the club. And at the time former coach Pep Guardiola said: "There are no players capable of dominating a sport with such superiority. In every sport there has existed only one player that can be considered as somebody unique. And this is the case."
Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, earns a fifth final-three nomination of his career (only one less than Messi). More importantly, the 27 year old winger is the last person to have won the Ballon d'Or before Messi began his streak. Ronaldo took the 2008 award, while still with former club Manchester United. However, since his move from Old Trafford to Santiago Bernabeu in 2009 (for a world record £80m), the two have embarked on a personal duel, taking goal scoring in Spain's top flights to nearly unprecedented levels.
Ronaldo scored 60 times in all competitions last season, single-handedly winning the league for the capital club and guiding them to the last four of the Champions League. The captain of the Portuguese national team also had a wonderful summer at the 2012 European Championships, scoring twice against pre-tournament favourites Holland to guide his team to the semi final of the tournament.
Finally, this is Iniesta's third final-three nomination, after making it to the 2009 and 2010 shortlists. However, the Spanish playmaker has never won the award. This season could be his strongest chance yet, after delivering a title that neither of his contenders have managed - an international trophy. The 28 year old Barcelona native has been a key member in the Spanish national team for some time now and his role in guiding Vicente del Bosque's side to a second successive European crown and a third straight international trophy is surely the stuff of legends.
FIFA World Coach of the Year
The strong Spanish flavour to FIFA's 2012 awards continued with La Roja's national team coach, Vicente Del Bosque and Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho picking up nominations for the best coach of the season. The two were joined by ex-Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, who left the Nou Camp this summer after guiding them to three league titles and two Champions League crowns in his four years in charge.
FIFA Women's Player of the Year
And to round off the evening's nominations, Brazilian Marta, one of the most decorated players in the women's game, was nominated for a ninth successive season. The 26 year old forward, who signed for Swedish club Tyreso FF in the summer, is looking for a sixth title. She will face competition from the American duo of Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan.