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FIFA Ballon d'Or 2014 Candidates Named: Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and More

Nick Akerman@NakermanFeatured ColumnistOctober 28, 2014

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 25: Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona protests to the referee during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on October 25, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Manuel Neuer lead the nominations for FIFA's 2014 Ballon d'Or award, although there is no room on the list for Luis Suarez.

The governing body released on Monday a list of 23 names being considered for the prize, reported by FIFA.com:

FIFA.com @FIFAcom

CONFIRMED: The 23 contenders for the FIFA #BallondOr revealed - http://t.co/ZNA2ZyR82O http://t.co/nFsWC2QmZk

Gareth Bale, who unlike Suarez was named on the shortlist, posted his delight on Twitter:

Gareth Bale @GarethBale11

I'm honoured to be included on the shortlist for the #BallondOr this year among so many world class players. Good luck to everyone!!

A shortlist of the final three candidates will be announced before the eventual winner is crowned on Jan. 12, 2015. Ronaldo is gunning to retain the trophy for the first time in his career with a third overall win, while Messi will be looking to become the first-ever player to win five Ballon d'Or trophies.

All club and international performances are counted through the calendar year of 2014. This means the World Cup is likely to be an important factor in the vote. A total of 184 national coaches and captains plus 173 members of the media named their top three last year, with this season's vote taking on the same formula.

As noted by FIFA's breakdown of the 2013 vote, each time a player is put first, he will receive five points. Second gains three, while third has one added to his total.

Let's check the 2014 nominees:

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2014 Ballon d'Or Nominees
NameClub(s)Country
Cristiano RonaldoReal MadridPortugal
Lionel MessiBarcelonaArgentina
Thomas MullerBayern MunichGermany
NeymarBarcelonaBrazil
Manuel NeuerBayern MunichGermany
Arjen RobbenBayern MunichNetherlands
Paul PogbaJuventusFrance
Gareth BaleReal MadridWales
James RodriguezMonaco, Real MadridColombia
Philipp LahmBayern MunichGermany
Toni KroosBayern Munich, Real MadridGermany
Angel Di MariaReal Madrid, Manchester UnitedArgentina
Diego CostaAtletico Madrid, ChelseaSpain
Mario GotzeBayern MunichGermany
Zlatan IbrahimovicParis Saint-GermainSweden
Eden HazardChelseaBelgium
Bastien SchweinsteigerBayern MunichGermany
Javier MascheranoBarcelonaArgentina
Karim BenzemaReal MadridFrance
Yaya ToureManchester CityCote d'Ivoire
Sergio RamosReal MadridSpain
Andres IniestaBarcelonaSpain
Thibaut Courtois ChelseaBelgium
Source: FIFA

Identifying the Likely Top Three

Manuel Neuer, Bayern Munich (Germany)

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18:  Manuel Neuer of FC Bayern Muenchen talks to the media during a press conference at the Landmark Hotel on February 18, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Less obvious than his willingness to bomb off the line to shackle strikers, one aspect of Manuel Neuer's game which sets him apart is his presence. The German stopper has a dominant air about him. Like Peter Schmeichel, his powerful physique and ability to fill the goal often intimidates, while his sweeper-keeper act has gone a long way to redefining the position.

Neuer helped Bayern Munich achieve the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal double in Germany last season, but his most important performances were reserved for the nation's World Cup win.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 04:  Manuel Neuer of Germany saves a shot from Karim Benzema of France during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Quarter Final match between France and Germany at Maracana on July 4, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Juli
Julian Finney/Getty Images

The tournament's Golden Glove winner made a number of important saves during the Brazilian showpiece, with his last-second stop from Karim Benzema's shot in the quarter-finals proving one of the most memorable. With a thrust of his right arm, the 28-year-old deflected the Frenchman's thumping attempt away from goal and out of danger.

"It was just instinct. It comes naturally," said Neuer after the match, reported by Charlie Scott for Mail Online.

He plays physically imposing, risky football that lacks remorse, but Neuer's all-round game underlines him as the best goalkeeper in the world. He can even pick a pass and is no slouch when setting his team away on counter-attacks.

Lionel Messi, Barcelona (Argentina)

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - JUNE 21: Lionel Messi of Argentina is challenged by Ehsan Haji Safi (L) and Reza Ghoochannejhad of Iran during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group F match between Argentina and Iran at Estadio Mineirao on June 21, 2014 in Belo Ho
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Leo joined Neuer in the Maracana stands shortly after failing to beat the German stopper in the World Cup final. He received the Golden Ball for almost single-handedly firing Argentina through the group stages in Brazil, where he picked up an impressive four Man of the Match awards.

Despite failing to consistently reach full pace during the competition, Messi netted winning goals against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iran, not to mention a brace in the 3-2 win over Nigeria. Many questioned whether Messi deserved to win the individual prize, but aside from Neuer, it's difficult to suggest any other single player who positively influenced his nation like the Barcelona star.

PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 30:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates scoring his teams first goal of the game during the Group F UEFA Champions League match between Paris Saint-Germain v FC Barcelona held at Parc des Princes on September 30, 2014 in Paris,
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

At club level, 2014 began with Messi returning from a serious injury. Barca failed to capture a trophy during Gerardo Martino's reign, and the player came under fire for some less-than-perfect performances. But Messi has regained fitness and form since the summer.

A late burst of form for Barcelona puts Messi back among the front-runners for the prize, as he threatened to be overruled by German influence before the start of the club campaign. Messi's year is best defined by his ability to win matches even when is largely thought to be misfiring, a true mark of the player's quality.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid (Portugal)

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 23: Cristiano Ronaldo (L) of Real Madrid CF competes for the ball with goalkeeper Manu Herrera of  Elche FC during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Elche CF at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 23, 2014 in Madrid
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

While Messi will be counting on his international form to gain votes, Ronaldo shall be pointing to his club numbers. Make no mistake about it, the former Manchester United man has been in frightening form for most of the year.

Ronaldo confirmed a record haul of 17 goals along the way to winning La Decima, while he also played an important role in helping Real Madrid win the Copa del Rey and Super Cup.

Like Messi, he has started the current season in dazzling form. He struck three hat-tricks, including one quartet, in just 15 days from Sep. 20, significantly aiding Madrid's poor defensive displays this season.

Alfredo Relano of AS compared Ronaldo to his eternal rival, indicating he continues to play like a star of the 1950s who would destroy less physically able opponents. "Cristiano’s frenetic rhythm, which Messi seems to have decided not to follow in order to mix the passing facet of his game in with the scoring part, is exceptional because it’s not of this time," wrote Relano.

He notes CR7 can score "with both legs, his head, from distance, from close range. And with penalties and free-kicks." Considering the Madrid superstar also won UEFA's Best Player in Europe award at the end of August—a continental Ballon d'Or, if you will—he is destined to head up plenty of voting sheets when the decisions begin.

Ronaldo risked his career through injury toward the end of the 2013-14 club season and struggled with just one goal at the World Cup, but now fully fit, he appears unstoppable. He is likely to pull himself to within one Ballon d'Or victory of Messi's current total, meaning next year's battle for supremacy could be the most intriguing yet.

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