Italy legend Paolo Maldini believes that while Andrea Pirlo is "unique" in world football, Cristiano Ronaldo is a shoo-in for this year's Fifa Ballon d'Or if he leads Portugal into the final of Euro 2012.
Pirlo's inspirational performance in Sunday night's quarter-final victory over England has prompted speculation that the midfielder, who played an integral role in Juventus' return to the summit of Serie A, has now propelled himself into contention for the most prestigious individual accolade in the game.
However, Maldini believes that the best his compatriot can hope for is a place on the podium in light of the incredible goalscoring feats of Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in La Liga and Europe this past club season.
"Andrea is a unique player," the former Milan defender told Sky Sport24. "For many reasons, he is unmatched throughout the world.
"This season he is quite rightly taking a lot of satisfaction from his performances, but I don't think that the Ballon d'Or is possible.
"Messi and Ronaldo's seasons were better, and Ronaldo will definitely win it if he goes to the final with Portugal."
As for the Azzurri's hopes of reaching the tournament decider, Maldini feels that Italy simply have to improve their finishing if they are to overcome Germany in Warsaw on Thursday night.
However, while striker Mario Balotelli has registered just one goal so far, Maldini insists that he would persist with the enigmatic forward.
"It 's true that Italy lack a goalscorer and that the team have some difficulty in scoring goals, but I'm not worried," he told Sky Sport24. "I've never been easy on him, but against the English, Balotelli carried the attack well."
Italy's eagerly-awaited last-four encounter with Joachim Low's side will get underway at 20:45CET.