The shortlist is out and the countdown is on. Will Lionel Messi make it four in a row?
FIFA and France Football released the 23-man shortlist for the 2012 FIFA Ballon d'Or award on Monday. The award, which merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year in 2010, is awarded yearly to the world's best overall player.
According to FIFA.com, the winner of this year's Ballon d'Or will be decided by "captains and head coaches of the men’s national teams as well as by international media representatives selected by France Football."
The winner will be announced Jan. 7, 2013, at the FIFA Ballon d'Or gala in Zurich. By that time, the list will have been whittled down to three finalists.
Lionel Messi has won the last two Ballon d'Or awards, as well as the final FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2009. He appears on the shortlist for this year's award as well.
Here is the full shortlist, in alphabetical order by last name, via FIFA.com:
Sergio Agüero (Argentina, Manchester City), Xabi Alonso (Spain, Real Madrid), Mario Balotelli (Italy, Manchester City), Karim Benzema (France, Real Madrid), Gianluigi Buffon (Italy, Juventus), Sergio Busquets (Spain, Barcelona), Iker Casillas (Spain, Real Madrid), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, Real Madrid), Didier Drogba (Côte d’Ivoire, Shanghai Shenhua), Radamel Falcao (Colombia, Atletico Madrid), Zlatan Ibrahimović (Sweden, Paris Saint-Germain), Andrés Iniesta (Spain, Barcelona), Lionel Messi (Argentina, Barcelona), Manuel Neuer (Germany, Bayern Munich), Neymar (Brazil, Santos), Mesut Özil (Germany, Real Madrid), Gerard Piqué (Spain, Barcelona), Andrea Pirlo (Italy, Juventus), Sergio Ramos (Spain, Real Madrid), Wayne Rooney (England, Manchester united), Yaya Touré (Côte d’Ivoire, Manchester City), Robin van Persie (Netherlands, Manchester United), Xavi (Spain, Barcelona).
Real Madrid lead all clubs with six players on the shortlist, while Barcelona have five representatives. Spain is the most represented international side with seven players.
Players like Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are obvious selections, but the presence of Gerard Pique, Mario Balotelli, Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema might raise a few eyebrows.
Elsewhere, we think it's nice to see Andrea Pirlo and his epic beard included along with young Brazilian prodigy Neymar.
What about you? Vote in the poll and leave your thoughts in the comments below.