Ballon d’Or 2011: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Xavi?

Lionel Messi is the firm favourite to win the Ballon d'Or for the third year running after enjoying a sparkling 2011 with Barcelona

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Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi and Lionel Messi Photo: The Sport Review

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Lionel Messi is waiting to discover if he will become the first man since Michel Platini to lift the Ballon d’Or for three years running when the winner of the award is announced at a ceremony in Zurich on Monday evening.

Messi, who beat off competition from Barcelona team-mates Xavi and Andrés Iniesta to land last year’s prize, joins Xavi and Cristiano Ronaldo on the 2011 shortlist.

The 24-year-old is the firm favourite to win a third straight crown after enjoying another incredible season with Barcelona, scoring 53 goals in all competitions and helping the Catalan giants seal La Liga and Champions League glory.

And Barcelona team-mate Gerard Pique has no doubts that the Argentina international deserves the accolade again. “Messi is leading the team to be one of the best ever – it is thanks to him that we have won so many titles,” he said.

“It is a pleasure to have him play for us, and he plays the same way as he did when he was 13, only now he does it more professionally and against the very best.

“If he continues his love for the game it will keep him at the top for many years. It takes many years to get to the top level, and Leo is the best in the world.”

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, who joins Sir Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho on the shortlist for the Coach of the Year prize, was also gushing with praise for Messi.

“Every year he is getting better,” said Guardiola. “You always think he has reached the top, but then gets better again, because he plays more and gains experience. He now understands the collective game better.”

Neither Mourinho, who won last year’s coach award, or Ronaldo will attend the Zurich ceremony due to Real Madrid’s Copa del Rey trip to Malaga on Tuesday.

All three coach nominees led their teams to silverware last term, with Manchester United boss Ferguson guiding his side to a record 19th Premier League title. Guardiola’s Barça clinched both the La Liga and Champions League titles, while Mourinho’s Real Madrid won the Copa del Rey.

Meanwhile, Wayne Rooney is on a three-man shortlist for the Puskás award for the ‘most beautiful goal of the year’ for his overhead kick against Manchester City at Old Trafford last season.

The United striker faces competition from Messi for his goal against Arsenal in the last 16 of the Champions League last term, and Neymar for his solo effort for Santos against Flamengo in July.

Ballon d’Or 2011 nominees’ reaction to being shortlised:

Cristiano Ronaldo: “It’s great to be among the final three contenders nominated for the Fifa Ballon d’Or award again.”

Lionel Messi: “I’m very much aware of the prestige associated with this award. Winning would give me the greatest pleasure.”

Xavi: “I’m extremely proud to have been nominated for the third successive year. It’s a great honour, and it’s not something I’ll ever forget.

Stay close to The Sport Review for the latest from Zurich during Monday’s ceremony.

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