The three best players in the world will battle it out for the game's most prestigious individual prize, although Casillas, Pirlo and Falcao can consider themselves unlucky, too
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
The voters got it right. Fifa and France Football have announced that Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta will be their three candidates shortlisted for the Ballon d'Or prize to be awarded in Switzerland in January. And approaching the end of a spectacular year on the football field, few can argue - Leo, Cristiano and Andres are the world's three best players right now, and all have been brilliant in 2012.
Iker Casillas can consider himself unlucky not to be selected. The Real Madrid and Spain goalkeeper led club and country with distinction as Madrid claimed La Liga and La Roja landed Euro 2012, but the 31-year-old was overshadowed by Ronaldo domestically and by Iniesta internationally.
Others under close consideration will have been Andrea Pirlo, majestic for Juventus as La Vecchia Signora recaptured the Scudetto and Italy reached the final of Euro 2012, and Atletico Madrid's Radamel Falcao, the shining light in the Spanish side's superb start this term and inspiration behind their Europa League triumph in 2011-12.
Messi missed out on La Liga and the Champions League for Barca this year, but the brilliant Argentine is about to smash Gerd Muller's mark of 85 goals in a calendar year and will be the favourite to win what would be an unprecedented fourth consecutive Ballon d'Or - that in a year which has also seen the birth of his son, Thiago.
Team-mate Iniesta, who was second in 2010 after scoring the winner in the World Cup final for Spain, is in the form of his life and was simply sensational for La Roja in Euro 2012, the creative fulcrum behind the side's success in Poland and Ukraine. For Barcelona, he has strangely spent some time on the bench this term, but played perhaps his best-ever game for the Blaugrana last weekend, when he scored one fantastic goal and set up the other three in the Catalans' 4-0 win at Levante.
Ronaldo, a Ballon d'Or winner in 2008, was the instigator behind Madrid's title triumph in 2011-12, scoring 46 goals in La Liga and 60 in total as Jose Mourinho's men toppled Barcelona. The Portuguese also led his nation to a semi-final spot at Euro 2012 with wonderful displays against Netherlands and Czech Republic before ultimately losing out to Spain in the last four, when he was cruelly denied the chance to take a penalty in the shootout.
So some strange selections may have been made in the past, with key absences such as Wesley Sneijder in 2010 after his success with Inter and Netherlands, but this time the voters have got it spot on. Now it remains to be seen which of the three will win the prize outright.
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