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Goal.com profiles the three finalists and looks at their accomplishments and highlights for 2011

SPECIAL
By KS Leong

They are the three best footballers of 2011, as determined by national team coaches and captains, and journalists around the world. But Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Xavi weren't just at the top of their game this past year; they have consistently been at the pinnacle for the last five years.

Messi is the reigning double Ballon d'Or champion and this is the fifth year in succession that he has made the final three. Such is his aura, his fame, his success and his extraordinary talent that he is continually engaged in the hotly-debated topic of whether he is, or will become, the greatest footballer ever.

Ronaldo is the last player not named Messi to be crowned the best in the world. This is the fourth time in the last five years that he will appear on the podium. Widely regarded at present as the second-best footballer on the planet, he is recognised as the most complete player in the modern-day game.

Xavi could go down in history as one of the most under-rated and under-appreciated footballers, and possibly one of the best never to have won the Ballon d'Or. The maestro orchestrator is undoubtedly the best passer of the football today and he has the intelligence to complement his phenomenal talent.

As we prepare for tonight's 2011 Fifa Ballon d'Or gala and the announcement of the winner, we relive the year that was for Messi, Ronaldo and Xavi.

LIONEL MESSI

2011 STATISTICS
ARGENTINA
Games
13
Goals  4
Assists 10
Team Titles
 0
BARCELONA YEAR
Games 57
Goals 55
Assists 25
Team Titles  5
WHAT THE STARS SAY...

Johan Cruyff: "Being the player that Messi is, he can still win many more. He will win five, six or seven and he will be the player with the most Ballon d'Ors in history.”

Diego Maradona: “The day that Messi finished second behind Ronaldo, I called him and said: ‘Listen to me, I’m going to tell you something, Lio, that’s the last time I’m going to let you come second to anyone. Is that clear?’ Since that day, he’s won everything!”
2011 HIGHLIGHTS
- Scored in the 3-1 win over Man Utd in the Champions League final

- Scored six goals in seven Clasico matches against Real Madrid in 2011, including a memorable solo effort in the Champions League semi-final at the Bernabeu

- Scored two goals in Club World Cup final against Santos and won the tournament's Golden Ball

- Surpassed Laszlo Kubala to become Barcelona's second all-time highest scorer in competitive matches






CRISTIANO RONALDO

2011 STATISTICS
PORTUGAL
Games
9
Goals 7
Assists 1
Team Titles
0
REAL MADRID YEAR
Games 51
Goals 53
Assists 16
Team Titles  1
WHAT THE STARS SAY...

Kaka: “In the modern game, Cristiano is the world’s most complete player. He’s capable of scoring goals with his left foot, his right, his head and from free-kicks. Messi is excellent and has numerous qualities, but overall Cristiano has more to offer."

Emmanuel Petit: "I’m leaning towards Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s performed very well wherever he’s been. Even when his team were struggling, he always stood up to be counted – you just have to look at his exceptional statistics to see that. Ronaldo’s consistency is just really impressive."
2011 HIGHLIGHTS
- Scored the only goal in the 1-0 Copa del Rey final win over Barca en route to lifting his first trophy with Madrid

- Won the 2010-11 Pichichi trophy by becoming the first player to score 40* goals in a single La Liga season, beating previous record of 38 held by Hugo Sanchez and Telmo Zarra

- Awarded the European Golden Shoe for the second time in his career

- Guided Portugal to Euro 2012 finals by scoring two goals in second leg play-off win over BiH






.* Marca credited Ronaldo with 41 goals


XAVI

2011 STATISTICS
SPAIN
Games
9
Goals 2
Assists 2
Team Titles
0
BARCELONA YEAR
Games 53
Goals  8
Assists 12
Team Titles  5
WHAT THE STARS SAY...

Rafael Nadal: “I hope Xavi wins the Ballon d’Or. As a Spaniard, I have to support Xavi! He’s had an incredible career and completely deserves it, even if the other two are also extraordinary players.”

Emmanuel Petit: "Xavi has redefined the position of midfield organiser. Barca's game channels through him, and he is an immense talent.

2011 HIGHLIGHTS
- Provided the assist for Pedro to score Barca's first goal against Man Utd in 3-1 Champions League final win

- Provided an assist and scored in 4-0 Club World Cup final against Santos and was awarded competition's Silver Ball

- Surpassed Migueli to become the player with the most official appearances for Barca and also became the club's most decorated footballer with 19 titles

- Broke the 100-cap mark for Spain and surpassed Raul to become the third most-capped player for the national team





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