Barcelona trio in running for FIFA Ballon D'Or
Barcelona's Xavi, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta are on the shortlist for the first FIFA Ballon D'Or award for the best player in the world to be presented on Monday at a ceremony that gets bigger by the year.
The award is a fusion of FIFA's Player of the Year gong, inaugurated in 1991, with France Football magazine's Ballon D'Or, which has been going since 1956.
For the first time, the coach of the year will also be named with Vicente del Bosque, winner of the World Cup with Spain, competing against Barca's Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, who led Inter Milan to the Champions League title last season.
FIFA will also name its world eleven of the year -- one goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards -- with five players competing for each position.
Image: Lionel Messi
'Xavi and Iniesta deserve it, they are excellent players'
Like the candidates for the player and coach of the year awards, the 55 players on the shortlist are all based in Europe.
The merger of the two player of the year awards means an increased voting panel with selected journalists joining the coaches and captains of national teams, who chose FIFA's award.
In a normal year, Messi's outstanding performances and stunning goals for Barca would be enough for him to win for the second year running.
However, a disappointing World Cup with Argentina could cost the forward, who won the FIFA and France Football awards last year, his crown and leave the door open for midfielders Xavi and Iniesta, who inspired Spain's World Cup win.
Messi would have no complaints if either of his club mates won. "Xavi and Iniesta deserve it, they are excellent players," Messi told Spanish media, adding that he wanted Guardiola to get the coach's award.
Forlan misses out on final shortlist
The World Cup may not be everything, though, as Uruguay's Diego Forlan, who was voted player of the tournament, has not made the final shortlist.
Whoever wins could share the stage with some lesser-known figures as FIFA also hands out awards for the goal of the year, the fair play award and the presidential award.
The 10 candidates for the best goal include one from an under-17 women's match, the Northern Ireland Premier League and the Swedish second division as well as efforts from Messi and Bayern Munich's Dutch striker Arjen Robben.
The other two awards are surprises with no indication from soccer's world governing body FIFA as to the possible outcome.
Recent winners of the fair play award included the Peruvian jungle city of Iquitos, former England manager Bobby Robson and Armenia and Turkey jointly.
One candidate this year could be Franco Navarro, coach of Peruvian first division club Leon de Huanuco, who astonished the country with his gesture before the second leg of the championship final against Deportivo San Martin last month.
Four players were sent off in the first leg but the Peruvian league then granted an amnesty to one of them, Leon de Huanuco's playmaker Gustavo Rodas, and exempted him from an automatic one-match suspension.
Navarro decided Rodas would not play in the second leg which San Martin won 2-1 to take the title.
The FIFA presidential award has had a feminine touch in the last two years, having been given to "women's football" in general in 2008 and Queen Rania of Jordan last year.
There will also be awards for the women's player of the year and the women's coach of the year.
Image: Diego Forlan