It will require a dramatic turn of events in order for Lionel Messi to be denied his fourth consecutive FIFA Ballon d'Or award this January.
Barcelona's star striker has once again wrapped up an utterly sensational year of football, converting goals at a never-before-seen rate and shattering records across the board. But while Messi was lighting up the pitch in 2012, so were some other Ballon d'Or contenders, including one of his teammates and a past award winner.
With the Ballon d'Or set to be awarded on Monday, here we'll break down each contender's chances of taking home football's most coveted individual honor.
Andres Iniesta, Barcelona and Spain
Andres Iniesta, who won UEFA's Best Player in Europe award this past summer, has been a star for Barcelona and the Spanish national team for years now, making beautiful passes on a consistent basis and always presenting a problem for the opposing defenders.
However, the biggest knock on Iniesta in his journey to win the FIFA Ballon d'Or is his numbers. The 28-year-old midfield maestro only participated in 39 La Liga or Champions League matches in 2012, which is 11 fewer than teammate Lionel Messi and 12 fewer than fellow contender Cristiano Ronaldo.
Iniesta did manage to score six goals and tally 16 assists in those 39 matches, but those statistics pale in comparison to those of Messi and Ronaldo, who converted on 35.1 and 18.4 percent of their shots in 2012, respectively. Iniesta converted on just 12.5 percent of his 48 shots in La Liga and Champions League play.
Despite his brilliant play for Spain at Euro 2012, leading La Roja to a second straight European Championship, one has to believe that Iniesta is a long shot to win the award.
Chances: 15 percent
Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid and Portugal
Perhaps the only player in the world capable of dethroning Lionel Messi, Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo had another tremendous year playing for Barca's rival club and Portugal's national team.
Ronaldo, who finished second behind Messi for the FIFA Ballon d'Or a year ago, logged more minutes than the Argentine in La Liga and Champions League play, took more shots and also put more on target. Unfortunately, Ronaldo failed to perform as efficiently as Messi, scoring 53 goals and picking up just 11 assists in 51 matches.
Don't get me wrong: those numbers are nothing to sneeze, but when compared to Messi's 72 goals and 17 assists in 50 La Liga and Champions League matches in 2012, they are significantly overwhelmed.
Ronaldo looks primed for his second straight No. 2 finish in the Ballon d'Or race.
Chances: 25 percent
Lionel Messi, Barcelona and Argentina
Once again, Barca star Lionel Messi is the odds-on favorite to win Ballon d'Or honors. Messi has won the award the last three years, and would become the first player ever to win it four times.
The scariest thing is that Messi is only 25 years old, and that he still has years of phenomenal football ahead of him. How many Ballon d'Or awards can he win before he calls it quits?
With his incredible ability to control the ball and elude defenders, Messi looks to be the favorite to win Ballon d'Or honors for years to come.
It's safe to say that Lionel Messi will go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game, and after netting a record 91 goals in all competitions during the 2012 calendar year, he's the top contender for this year's Ballon d'Or, without question.
Chances: 60 percent
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