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The Netherlands midfielder is in awe of the forward's confidence on the pitch and says he is the standout candidate for the prize

Hamburg star Rafael van der Vaart has backed Cristiano Ronaldo to win this year's Ballon d'Or after labelling the Portuguese "an incredible player".

Franck Ribery and Lionel Messi appeared to be the early frontrunners for the prize at the start of the season, but an astonishing run of form from the Real Madrid man has catapulted him firmly into contention.

The 28-year-old has found the back of the net 17 times in just 14 Liga games so far this term and Van der Vaart believes he is now the standout candidate to lift the award for a second time.

He told mopo.de: "Everyone, even the young players at HSV want to be like Ronaldo. People say he is arrogant on the pitch but in the dressing room he is quite shy and quiet.

"He is an incredible player and he deserves to win it (the Ballon d'Or)."

The Netherlands midfielder, 30, tore ankle ligaments in his nation's recent friendly with Colombia but despite early reports suggesting he could be set for a lengthy lay-off, Van der Vaart is hopeful of making a swift recovery.

He added: "I'm already feeling much better than a few days ago. Today I'm already a lot fitter and I'm really hoping I can come back sooner rather than later."

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