FIFA has announced the 23 players on the shortlist for the men's Ballon d'Or award. The group is headlined by the usual suspects—Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo—along with most of the game's other big superstars.
The list will be trimmed to three in late November, and the winner will be announced at a ceremony on Jan. 7. Messi has won the award both times since it merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year honor. Xavi has also finished in the top three twice.
Without further ado, here are the 23 players vying for the trophy, followed by a quick breakdown of the top contenders.
|Sergio Aguero||Argentina||Manchester City|
|Xabi Alonso||Spain||Real Madrid|
|Mario Balotelli||Italy||Manchester City|
|Karim Benzema||France||Real Madrid|
|Iker Casillas||Spain||Real Madrid|
|Cristiano Ronaldo||Portugal||Real Madrid|
|Didier Drogba||Ivory Coast||Shanghai Shenhua|
|Radamel Falcao||Colombia||Atletico Madrid|
|Zlatan Ibrahimovic||Sweden||Paris Saint-Germain|
|Manuel Neuer||Germany||Bayern Munich|
|Mesut Ozil||Germany||Real Madrid|
|Sergio Ramos||Spain||Real Madrid|
|Wayne Rooney||England||Manchester United|
|Yaya Toure||Ivory Coast||Manchester City|
|Robin van Persie||Netherlands||Manchester United|
The two-time defending winner of the prestigious honor should be viewed as the favorite to win again. Even though he was unable to lead Barcelona to the La Liga or Champions League titles last season, no player on the list is as dominant as the Argentine striker.
His numbers tell the tale. He's scored an eye-popping 90 times over his last 74 appearances for Barca, and he has tallied 12 goals in eight matches for the national team in 2012, an area where his performance had dropped off in previous years.
He's the complete package, and it wouldn't surprise anybody to see him win the Ballon d'Or again.
Also in the mix once again will be Messi's Real Madrid rival, Ronaldo. The 27-year-old goal-scoring machine was a major reason Los Blancos were finally able to get back on top of La Liga last season, scoring 46 league goals.
He finished a distant second in the voting to Messi last year. By leading Madrid to the title, he should have at least closed the gap. It's the best individual rivalry in football right now, so it's only fitting that they battle for the top honor.
It will come down to how much the voters weigh the club accomplishments in their decision.
The top long-shot candidate would be Falcao. The Colombian superstar proved he was capable of producing in La Liga, scoring 36 times for Atletico Madrid after a move from Porto. He's on an even more torrid pace this season.
One thing to consider when it comes to Falcao against Messi and Ronaldo is the players surrounding him. He doesn't have as many elite teammates as those Barcelona and Real Madrid stars do, which makes his stats even more impressive.
Even though it's hard to imagine him cracking the top two, he could be one of the finalists named next month.