At the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala in Zurich on Monday, January 11, Barcelona star Lionel Messi will be in contention not only for the Golden Ball itself but also the 2015 FIFA Puskas Award—the gong given out annually to the best goal scored at any level.
After beating goals such as Carli Lloyd's stunning 50-yard hat-trick-sealing, World Cup final-winning strike and Philippe Mexes' exquisite volley in a pre-season Milan derby with his effort against Athletic Bilbao, Messi must now contend with Roma's Alessandro Florenzi and Vila Nova's Wendell Lira to one of the few individual awards he is yet to win.
FIFA confirmed them as the three final nominees drawn from a pool of 10 contenders, all scored between 27 September 2014 and 23 September 2015:
FIFA #Puskas Award nominees: Alessandro Florenzi Wendell Lira Lionel Messi https://t.co/bni2ZpKt922015-11-30 13:09:47
The award is one of eight prizes given out as part of FIFA's Ballon d'Or Gala on Monday, which kicks off at 5:30 p.m. GMT (12:30 p.m. ET).
Here is a look at each of the nominees and a final prediction as to which player will take home the prestigious award.
Wendell Lira vs. Atletico-GO, 11 March 2015
Brazilian journeyman forward Lira is something of an odd man out of the three candidates, but his magnificent strike deservedly puts him in contention here.
Playing for Goianesia at the time, he finished off a lovely team move with an acrobatic bicycle kick into the bottom corner.
To make his goal even more impressive, the delivery came from a chipped through ball rather than a cross, requiring the striker to turn quickly on the spot as the ball sailed over his shoulder before leaping and twisting in the air to connect powerfully.
Lionel Messi vs. Athletic Bilbao, 30 May 2015
Messi's astounding entry to open the scoring in the Copa del Rey final will undoubtedly be one of the finest goals on the Argentinian's highlight reel—an impressive feat given any compilation of his goals will be around the same length as The Lord of the Rings by the time he hangs up his boots.
Picking up the ball near the halfway line on the right flank, the diminutive genius dribbled and danced his way past four Bilbao defenders before cutting inside on to his magical left foot and slotting past Iago Herrerin at the near post.
Reaction to the goal was neatly summarised by Bleacher Report UK:
Bleacher Report UK @br_uk
When you see replays of Leo Messi's goal #CopaDelRey ▶️ http://t.co/cxObmCX0Pv http://t.co/bmsED3S1kB2015-5-30 20:27:19
The strike was the first in a brace that helped the Blaugrana win 3-1 and claim the second trophy of their history treble.
Alessandro Florenzi vs. Barcelona, 16 September 2015
Scored just a week before the deadline, Florenzi's incredible goal immediately became a late contender.
Playing against Barcelona in the Champions League, the Italian picked up the ball inside his own half and marauded forward.
Immediately upon entering his opponents' half of the field, Florenzi proceeded to launch a wonderfully audacious effort at goal that sailed in off the post in the top left-hand corner to leave Marc-Andre ter Stegen stranded.
Judging these efforts is, of course, purely subjective.
Some will prefer the aesthetic of the ball being lashed or volleyed in from distance while others will laud the sublime skill required to go on a mazy run and evade defenders left and right before finishing in style.
Equally, there will be yet more left to rue the fact that none of these entries is the result of a flowing 20-pass move in which every member of the team touched the ball and it never stopped moving.
Of the six previous winners, only one was an individual dribble while the other five were all long-range efforts or acrobatic volleys, which would seemingly stack the votes in favour of Florenzi or Lira.
However, according to Eurosport's Toby Keel, Messi's solo effort is currently the comfortable favourite to win the award.
Indeed, given the 28-year-old's immense popularity and the context in which it was scored—in a cup final, lest we forget—it seems there's a good chance he will be picking up at least one award at the Ballon d'Or gala.