Messi, Ronaldo and Neuer: A look at each player's claim to the Ballon d'Or

(From left) Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, Argentinian forward Lionel Messi, and Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo. -- PHOTO: AFP
(From left) Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, Argentinian forward Lionel Messi, and Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo. -- PHOTO: AFP

Football stars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo expectedly made the shortlist of the Ballon d'Or world player of the year award, with German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer rounding up the final three still in contention for the title. 

It has been a superlative year for all three players, with each of them boasting unique individual achievements to stake his claim on the coveted prize. 


Cristiano Ronaldo

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The Real Madrid forward's scintillating form this season makes him a favourite to retain his 2013 title in many pundits' eyes. He has scored 20 goals in 12 appearances in La Liga so far and equalled Raul's Champions League record of 71 goals in Los Blancos' most recent European match.

Ronaldo also reached 22 hat-tricks in the Spanish League, a record that is shared with legendary strikers Telmo Zarra and Alfredo di Stefano but one which he will surely break. 

But CR7 has been on song last season as well, as he scored 17 goals in the last Champions League campaign - another record - to secure La Decima, Real Madrid's long-held dream of a 10th European trophy. Along the way, he put two past the holders Bayern Munich in a 4-0 semi-final win. And he found the spare time to win the Golden Shoe award as the top goal scorer in Europe, an accolade he shared with Luis Suarez for his last season with Liverpool.

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However, he failed to make the usual game-changing impact on the 4-1 final win against bitter city rivals Atletico Madrid, only scoring the last goal through a penalty - and then pulling an over-the-top celebration - when the game was already comfortably put away. 

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An even bigger shadow on 2014 is Ronaldo's forgettable World Cup in the summer. The Portuguese captain was unable to shake off a niggling knee injury and scored only one ultimately futile goal. Portugal's Brazillian outing ended prematurely in the group stages. 


Lionel Messi

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This was supposed to be the four-time Ballon d'Or winner's year to cement his status as an all-time great. Messi single-handedly dragged Argentina all the way to the World Cup final through his goals and assists but faltered in the final against Germany. Much was also made about his failure to score in the knockout stages and some questioned his Golden Ball award for the best player of the tournament. 

Since then, the Barcelona forward has returned to happier times with his club. In November, he equalled, broke and then extended Telmo Zarra's La Liga goal-scoring record with a hat-trick. The Little Flea now stands with 253 goals in his old stomping ground of the Spanish League. 

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The dimunitive player then followed up with another hat-trick in the Champions League a few days later to take his all-time tally to 73, breaking Raul's goal record in that competition. 

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However, his lack of silverware could count against him as his exploits for club and country ultimately yielded no titles for Barcelona and Argentina in 2014.

Messi is also facing issues off the pitch as he continues to deal with a tax evasion case. In November, he sparked off rumours about the previously unthinkable notion of him leaving Barcelona, after the one-club man refused to unequivocably state that he could never play for another team. 


Manuel Neuer

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Extending the long line of legendary German goalkeepers is Manuel Neuer, who is arguably the best and undoubtedly the most iconic custodian currently.

He captured the world's attention not just with his saves but also his quick footwork at the World Cup in Brazil, where he frequently ventured far from his penalty area to clear the ball and tackle strikers. Overnight, the term sweeper-keeper entered the lexicon of many. 

He picked up the Golden Glove award as the tournament's most outstanding goalie and more importantly, his vital saves helped Germany win their fourth World Cup. 

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Since then, Neuer has kept up his heroics outside the box to prove his summer form was no fluke. He has been pulling off backheel flicks and clearing headers in the Bundesliga for Bayern Munich almost nonchalantly. His safe hands have ensured that Bayern has kept 10 clean sheets in 13 games so far. 

Last season, Neuer's club also won the German league and Cup double at a canter under new manager Pep Guardiola, although the domestic honours were seen as a step down by some after the treble winning season prior to that. 

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