Thursday marked a crowning achievement for Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta, as those three men were named the finalists for the 2012 FIFA Male Player of the Year Award.
The award, properly known as the FIFA Ballon d'Or, is given out each year to signify greatness on both the club and international levels.
While most star-watching fans would be somewhat quick to dismiss Iniesta's chances, the midfielder had a fantastic season that deserves recognition. A Steve Nash-like assists man, Iniesta was named the best player in the 2011-12 Champions League and given UEFA Best Player in Europe Award—beating out both of his counterparts.
Nevertheless, Iniesta still won't win, according to legendary Brazilian striker Ronaldo.
"I think they are perfect picks. There is no doubt these players are among the best," said Ronaldo (per the New York Daily News). "Messi and Ronaldo are really the only ones with a chance of winning, that's how it's been recently."
(Cristiano) Ronaldo and Messi are revered by almost all fans worldwide, but are also considered among the greatest players the sport has ever seen. Both are deserving of the recognition as finalists, but there is only one man truly deserving in 2012 and he'll be rocking No. 10 for Barcelona on Saturday against Athletic.
In fact, the only two factors working in Messi's detriment are historical precedence and the fact that Real Madrid took home the 2011-12 La Liga championship.
If he comes away victorious, it would mark Messi's fourth consecutive player of the year award. That would break a record Messi currently shares with Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane—doing so at just 25 years old.
As history across all major sports tells us, voters get notoriously fickle when it comes to record-setting. However, if the award is meant to signify individual greatness, there is no questioning Messi is the best candidate.
The Argentinian marvel has dominated the world scene with an innate ability to find the back of the net. His free-flowing play allows others around him to thrive, as evidenced by the overall core strength of Barcelona.
Led by manager Tito Vilanova, Barcelona has come back motivated from its loss last season and looks to be dominant in 2012-13.
Most of that great play has been thanks to Messi. In just 12 starts, the Barca striker has a scintillating 19 goals and five assists, putting him on pace to shatter the 50 times he hit the back of the net in 2011-12.
Behind Messi (and Iniesta), Barcelona is yet to lose and leads La Liga with a plus-28 goal differential.
That's not to discount Ronaldo because he was nothing short of sensational in 2012. As the best player on Barcelona, he triumphed as a La Liga champion earlier this year, finishing off a campaign that saw him score a club record 46 goals.
Despite those triumphs, he's also had a (relatively) slow beginning to the 2012-13 campaign. Perhaps spurred by his unhappiness with Real Madrid, he hasn't looked like an impenetrable force in the latter half of the calendar year. When accounting for all of his performances, international included, Ronaldo has only 26 goals in 36 matches thus far.
It's a full-year award, not one just given to the best player on arguably the world's best team. Ronaldo undoubtedly had a great season, but Messi is the man to beat under any objective measure.