Spain players lead FIFA Ballon d'Or list
World Cup winners Spain have seven players in a 23-man shortlist for the FIFA Ballon d'Or, unveiled by soccer's governing body and France Football magazine on Tuesday.
A Spaniard last won the coveted prize in 1960 when Luis Suarez triumphed, and included in this year's list is Barcelona's Andres Iniesta, who netted the only goal in extra-time to defeat the Netherlands in the final.
Barcelona have six players in the list, four of them Spanish including David Villa, who joined from Valencia during the close season.
Last year's Ballon d'Or victor Lionel Messi of Argentina is also there as La Liga emerged as the most represented league in the list with 11 players.
The Premier League only has three players in the shortlist, none of them English, and Ghana's Asamoah Gyan of Sunderland actually played the whole 2009/10 season at Stade Rennes in Ligue 1.
Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, who had an indifferent World Cup, is not in the list.
No French players are on the list, following France's fiasco in South Africa, where Les Bleus were knocked out in the group stage and went on strike to protest against the exclusion of Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka after he had insulted then coach Raymond Domenech.
Champions League winners Inter Milan have four players on the list.
The winner will be announced on Jan. 10, 2011 in Zurich.
Ten managers, including four national coaches, were nominated for the coach of the year award.
The gong, formerly known as the European Footballer of the Year award, is voted on by journalists from across the world.
Here are the shortlisted players. Vote for the player you feel deserves the award.
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Image: FIFA unveils Ballon d'Or shortlist
Xabi Alonso (Spain)
Xabi Alonso played a key role in Spain's first ever World Cup triumph. He was the controlling force in midfield as he started every match for the Spaniards along side Sergio Busquets and Xavi.
He also impressed in his first season for Real Madrid and was nominated in the Best Midfielder in the Spanish Football league awards for 2009-10.
Image: Xabi Alonso
Daniel Alves (Brazil)
Daniel Alves is rated as one of the best right-backs in the business.
The Brazilian joined Barcelona in 2008 and immediately helped them to the treble after having spent six years at Sevilla, where he won two UEFA Cups and the Copa del Rey.
Image: Daniel Alves
Iker Casillas (Spain)
There is little doubt that Iker Casillas is the world's best goalkeeper and should be one of the favourites to win the FIFA World Player of the award.
Casillas captained Spain to their first ever World Cup triumph earlier this year in South Africa as he led from the front with an excellent display with the gloves. He also became the third ever goalkeeper to captain a World Cup-winning side and was honoured with the Golden Glove award for being named the tournament's best goalkeeper.
The 29-year-old Real Madrid goalkeeper also boasts of an unique record of having won all major club and national championship titles.
Image: Iker Casillas
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
The world's most expensive football player failed to live upto expectations at the 2010 World Cup as Portugal were knocked out in the Round of 16.
Ronaldo, who smashed the records following his transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid in a transfer deal worth US$132 million last year, has finally found his footing for the Spaniards, scoring eight goals in last two matches.
Image: Cristiano Ronaldo
Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast)
Didier Drogba was instrumental in helping Chelsea win the English Premier League last season with a tally of 29 goals that also won him the Golden Boot.
In March 2010, he was named as the 2009 African Footballer of the Year, which was also his second award.
The striker was injured during the World Cup but showed great resolve by playing in the next few matches with a protective cast on his right arm.
Image: Didier Drogba
Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon)
Samuel Eto'o joined Inter Milan in a 46 million five-year deal last July. The Cameroonian was in fine form last season and scored freely.
Through his scoring prowess, Inter Milan went on to complete the treble, winning the Serie A, the Champions League as well as the Coppa Italia in the 2009-10 season.
He his only failure came at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where he proved an uninspiring captain and the team was knocked out of the competition in the first round itself.
Image: Samuel Eto'o
Cesc Fabregas (Spain)
This Spain international had a great season in the Arsenal jersey, being the highest goal-scorer for the EPL club. He was also sharp with his passes and topped the charts for assists.
The biggest high for the 23-year-old came in the Spain jersey as he played an important part in helping the country lift the World Cup in July.
Image: Cesc Fabregas
Diego Forlan (Uruguay)
He was quite obviously a revelation at the World Cup. Through his inspirational captaincy, Forlan led Uruguay to the World Cup semis in South Africa.
But his success came on the European stage when he helped Atletico Madrid lift the Europa League. He was slow to get off the mark in the early part of the 2009 season. Slowly but surely he found his form and the goals, to take his team into the final of the Copa del Ray and the Europa League.
Forlan scored twice against Fulham in the Europa League final and ended the season with a total of 28 goals, including six in Atletico's successful Europa League campaign.
His performance at the World Cup saw him rightfully claim the Golden Ball.
Will the Ballon d'Or be his for the taking?
Image: Diego Forlan
Asamoah Gyan (Ghana)
He was the victim of Uruguay's 'Hand of God' at the World Cup in South Africa. But the Sunderland striker is now in the running for the Ballon d'Or after his histrionics at the World Cup.
Gyan was Ghana's top scorer as his country became only the second African side to reach a World Cup quarter-final.
Image: Asamoah Gyan
Andres Iniesta (Spain)
Andres Iniesta finds himself in this exclusive list for the second time in succession. Iniesta is the backbone of Barcelona for a few seasons now.
He was dogged by injuries for most of last season and featured in most matches as a substitute for Barca. Nevetheless, he played a very important role in the team and helped Barcelona to the La Liga title.
His inspiring performance at the World Cup in South Africa helped Spain reach the final. He scored the winning goal in the final to hand Spain their first World Cup.
Image: Andres Iniesta
Julio Cesar (Brazil)
This Brazil International has made quite a name for himself with his heroics under the bar.
This first-choice goalkeeper was in top form for Inter Milan over the last two-three seasons. His performance earned him high praise from football greats and he was named the best goalkeeper in the world.
The performance is there to be seen and the praise has come in abundance, but will it be enough to merit the Ballon d'Or?
Image: Julio Cesar
Miroslav Klose (Germany)
The Bayern Munich striker had a fantastic run at the World Cup and has translated the same in this season's Bundesliga. There is talk though of him leaving the club, with his contract expiring next June, to help him achieve his goal of playing at Euro 2012.
The Poland-born ace has said he wants to continue playing through to the Euro 2012 finals which will be hosted in the Ukraine and his native Poland.
After that bright start to his Bayern career, Klose struggled during the latter half of the Bundesliga season. After sustaining an injury in March 2009, there was very little contribution by the German striker at the club level.
Image: Miroslav Klose
Philipp Lahm (Germany)
The German captain, who is an integral part of the Bayern's defence, like Klose, has been knocking the doors for quite sometime. He is an old warhorse who took over the reigns after Michael Ballack had to pull out of the World Cup due to an injury.
During the 2009-10 season under the new coach Louis van Gaal, Lahm finally got to play on his preferred position as a right-back. After some difficulties in the early season Lahm played one of his best seasons ever, forming an excellent duo with the Dutch midfielder Arjen Robben, scoring one goal and giving 12 assists in all of his games
He was also elected vice-captain by Van Gaal.
Image: Philipp Lahm
He shook the world, with a stupendous goal at the World Cup, against North Korea. The Inter Milan mid-fielder was one of the stars who impressed one and all with his ball skills, bringing in the Brazilian flavour back at the Cup.
On May 22, 2010 Inter won the UEFA Champions League, thus completing the treble with a 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich in the final at the Santiago Bernabeu
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
They call him the mini Maradona. He has mesmerized his opponents and fans for quite sometime now.
Winner of the Ballon d'Or in 2009, Messi is yet again one of the strong contenders for the trophy. He had a fantastic last season with Barcelona and although injuries did hamper his goal-scoring this season, he has been on the scoring charts quite frequently.
His performance against Arsenal in the Champions League quarter-final, where he scored a hat-trick, was the most beautiful one-handed displays of the year -- he pretty much tore the Gunners apart on his own that night.
Image: Lionel Messi
Thomas Mueller (Germany)
One of the rising stars in international football, Muller won the Golden Boot in the recently-concluded World Cup. It was Mueller's second award after being voted the best young player earlier.
For Bayern, Mueller was instrumental in the German club lifting the Bundasaliga title. He played 46 times for his club last season scoring 19 goals.
In the World Cup he netted five goals from just five shots on target.
Image: Thomas Mueller
Mesut Ozil (Germany)
Ever since Lukas Podolski and Mirsolav Klose set the house on fire in the World Cup, Germany was looking for a young stallion to step up the plate. Germany was the youngest side in the World Cup and Ozil shone like a bright star.
A big move to Real Madrid saw him earn more praise for his skillful play.
Image: Mesut Ozil
Carles Puyol (Spain)
Barcelona captain and one of the top defenders in modern football, Carles Puyol quietly leaves an impression whenever he plays, be it in La Liga or on a bigger stage vis-a-vis the Champions League.
Along with teammates Iniesta and Xavi, Puyol has proved to be the other mainstay of Barca. Despite a few injury issues in the last season he has inspired Barca to the 2009 UEFA Super Cup, the 2009 Champions League and the 2009 FIFA Club World Cup.
He was also instrumental in Spain lifting the World Cup in South Africa. He scored the only goal in the semifinal against Germany with a powerful header from a corner taken by Xavi, sending the national team through to their first World Cup final.
Image: Carles Puyol
Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
Perhaps one of the front runners for the trophy, considering his courageous display for Netherlands as well as the match he played against Manchester United, where he single-handedly blew his former club out of the competition with a stunning display at Old Trafford.
Just like his team-mate, Wesley Sneijder, Robben looked all set to be the forgotten man after the Real Madrid experience. But with 23 goals in just 29 games, Robben revived his career with Bayern.
Image: Arjen Robben
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany)
A left midfielder who can also play on the right, he has excellent dribbling skills and is a specialist at set-pieces.
Schweinsteiger also has a hard shot, and often scores from outside the penalty area. He can play as a defensive midfielder or just behind the strikers.
Coming up the Bayern youth ranks, he made an instant impact and impressed one and all with his speed and ball skills.
The German, just like his team-mates, was one of the key reasons why Bayern could complete the treble.
Image: Bastian Schweinsteiger
Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)
This Dutch dead-ball specialist has been in fine knick since joining Inter from Real last season. He made an immediate impact taking Inter to wins in the derby clash vs AC Milan.
But his deadly free-kicks came to the fore at the Champions League. He used this strength to perfection in crucial matches in the European League. In the final against Bayern Munich he helped Diego Milito score the first of the two goals with his razor sharp assist and claim the Champions League title.
He was also one of the most consistent players in the World Cup in South Africa. He scored five goals and was tied on five goals with David Villa but that was not enough as the Dutch lost out to Spain in the title clash.
Image: Wesley Sneijder
David Villa (Spain)
A complete striker at present, David Villa outshone his teammates again in Spanish colours, playing a pivotal role in their success atthe World Cup.
He scored vital goals at critical stages. It's not surprising that Iniesta, Xavi and Villa were the most influential players for Spain.
Villa signed on a four-year contract with Barcelona, with the option for a fifth, worth a reported 7 million per season and, thus, followed in the footsteps of his heroes, Luis Enrique and Quini, both of whom, like Villa, started out at Sporting Gij n and ended up at Barcelona.
Image: David Villa
He is considered as one of the best play-makers in the world. Barcelona's mid-fielder Xavi has been at the 'centre' of many of Barcelona's big wins in La Liga as well as in the Champions League. Touted as one of the finest central mid-fielders in recent times, his performance in the Barca shirt in the last 3 seasons only proves this statement right.
He enjoyed his best season in 2008-09, but one season later, Xavi continued his excellent form. He once again topped the assists table and provided both the assists in Barcelona's 2-0 victory against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
It was Xavi, who along with Iniesta in the midfield, helped Spain to their first World Cup title in South Africa. His passing prowess made the difference in Spain's campaign through the World Cup.