Ballon d'Or 2013: Ranking Top Contenders for Prestigious Individual Award
Two months remain in 2013, giving top players from around the globe a chance to make their final case for the Ballon d'Or. The top annual individual honor handed out by FIFA changed formats in 2010 and has been won by Lionel Messi every time since.
The Barcelona superstar is once again among the top contenders to take home the award, but is far from the lock he's been in years past. It's a close race heading into the stretch run, giving other players a chance to end his streak with a memorable finish to the year.
Knowing that, let's examine a trio of stars likely leading the award chase following FIFA's release of the 23-man shortlist earlier in the week.
1. Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich/France)
Bayern Munich were virtually unstoppable en route to capturing the treble last campaign. Ribery was a key cog in the attack throughout that remarkable run and is certainly deserving of the Ballon d'Or despite not scoring as many goals as his chief competition.
His biggest problem may be his teammates, most notably Bastian Schweinsteiger and Arjen Robben. All three players are enjoying terrific years and, with the idea of rewarding a Bayern player, the voters may end up splitting their ballots between the three.
With Bayern off to another strong start, there isn't much more Ribery can do with FCB. The clincher for him could very well be helping France survive the UEFA playoffs in World Cup qualifying. If he helps lead his national team to Brazil, he should take home the award.
2. Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Argentina)
Messi was once again the driving force behind a Barcelona run to the La Liga title and helped Argentina punch their ticket to Brazil for next summer. His presence atop the formation continues to be critical to the success of both squads.
Who will win the Ballon d'Or for 2013?
Two things keep him from taking the top spot, though. First, Ribery and Bayern crushed Barca in the Champions League semifinals, winning 7-0 on aggregate. Messi only played in the first leg and failed to make an impact.
The other issue, which is more of an intangible, is voter fatigue. Messi has won the award all three times it has been handed out in its current form. While most of those decisions were easy based on his tremendous play, he has real competition this year and voters could opt for a fresh winner.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid/Portugal)
The final spot in the top three came down to Ronaldo or Paris Saint-Germain and Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Although the veteran PSG star is making a late charge into contention, Ronaldo still gets the nod based on his entire year of work.
Before Real Madrid rebuilt their lineup during the summer to give him more support, Ronaldo was often asked to carry the attack on his back. Even though opposing defenders understood his importance, the talented forward still averaged around a goal per game.
The same was true at the international level, where Portugal looks to Ronaldo to lead the way. Interestingly, Portugal and Sweden are matched up in the UEFA qualifying playoffs, and the result of the two legs could very well decide whether Ibrahimovic or Ronaldo has the better Ballon d'Or case.
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