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Why Ronaldo/Messi/Neuer should win the Ballon d'Or

Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo started the defence of his Ballon d'Or before he had even won last year's accolade. A brace of goals against Celta Vigo in Real Madrid's first match of 2014, before the January gala, set the benchmark for the Portuguese star this year. In short, he has drastically improved on his form of 2013 to enjoy arguably the best year of his glittering career.

The 29-year-old has set plenty of records this year, most notably the 17 goals he scored in last season's Champions League that guided Madrid to their 10th title, la decima. He may have been below par in the final, even though he did score the final goal, but he scored twice in the thumping 4-0 win at holders Bayern Munich in the semifinals.

Ronaldo also finished last season with the European Golden Shoe, sharing the award with Luis Suarez thanks to his 31 La Liga goals. All this came with numerous niggling injuries, but Ronaldo pushed on despite fears over his long-term future.

Those injury fears were put to bed this season when he started the year by breaking a 79-year league record thanks to 17 goals in the opening 10 matches of the season. To date, he has 26 goals in 21 games in the current campaign.

-- Nicholas Rigg

Lionel Messi

As has happened every year since 2007, Messi has made the top three in the race for the Ballon d'Or. Already the most successful footballer in the history of the award, having collected a record four consecutive trophies from 2009 to 2012, the Argentine captain has once again impressed thanks to his jaw-dropping goal-scoring ability, magical dribbling skills and unparalleled consistency.

Messi has recently broken the all-time goal-scoring record for both La Liga (253) and the Champions League (74). Still only 27-years-old, his recent form indicates that he continues as hungry as ever.

The diminutive No. 10 was awarded the Golden Ball at the World Cup after playing a decisive role in taking Argentina all the way to the final, a match in which his home nation were ultimately outplayed by a much more solid German team. Despite feeling completely heartbroken at the time, "La Pulga" has used such huge disappointment to his advantage, using it as extra motivation to boost his game even further.

Messi is one of the best players in football history from an individual perspective. However, and regardless of all the adulation he is constantly surrounded by, he continues to focus on ensuring his skills are put at the service of the team, not the other way round.

The humble star continues to grow as Barca's ultimate leader both on and off the pitch, becoming more generous and influential as years go by.

-- Francesc Tomas

Manuel Neuer

The fact that Neuer made the select shortlist is a massive compliment and an indication of Bayern Munich and Germany's No. 1's imperious form over the past year. The 28-year-old has taken the "Art of Goalkeeping" to dizzy new heights and readers will no doubt have seen ample footage of the 28-year-old goalkeeper engaged in "Neuer-mode", where impossibly casual flicks and backheels are the order of the day during his regular forays way outside his box.

The imposing and agile Neuer possesses rapid thought and express speed off his line. He is the extra defender, a libero for club and country, and you can count his costly mistakes -- the currency for any goalkeeper -- on one hand.

He was the standout Bayern (and German) candidate from the World Cup winners on the 23-man shortlist and, buoyed by that outstanding success in the summer, Neuer has continued his inspired form with 10 clean sheets in the Bundesliga, conceding just three goals in 13 games and equalling a league record.

His brilliance also helped Bayern run away with their Champions League group. In particular, top performances against Manchester City and CSKA Moscow secured victories by the narrowest of margins.

There is an outstanding case for Neuer to win this award. After all, his rivals are a lot of things but they are not World Cup winners!

-- Mark Lovell

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