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Jan 6, 2013

Making cases for the 2012 Ballon d'Or

The FIFA Ballon d'Or and FIFA Women's Player of the Year awards will be handed out in Zurich on Monday, as three men and three women vie for soccer’s most prestigious individual prizes. Here is a statistical case for each of the six finalists ...

Andres Iniesta The Spanish midfielder was at his best when it mattered most, as Spain won Euro 2012 for its third straight major title. Iniesta was named Best Player of the Tournament, leading all players by completing 162 open-play passes in the attacking third. Domestically, his 15 assists from open play were the most in La Liga during 2012, three more than Lionel Messi.

Lionel Messi The record year that Messi had in 2012 has been well-documented. Voters cannot overlook his 91 goals for club and country. But it’s not just his scoring prowess that has the Argentine great back to defend his title as the best player in the world.

Messi makes everyone on his team better. His 936 completed passes in the attacking third of the field are the most in La Liga during 2012. He touched the ball 1,738 times in that same area of the field, 324 more than second-place Cristiano Ronaldo. The 25-year-old also created 74 scoring chances in 2012, tied for fourth in the league, 12 more than Ronaldo and 28 more than teammate Iniesta.

Cristiano Ronaldo The 2008 Ballon d'Or winner had another stellar year for both club and country in 2012. Ronaldo led Real Madrid to its 32nd La Liga title last term, scoring 46 goals along the way. His 40 La Liga goals during the calendar year of 2012 were second only to Messi's 59. He also scored three of Portugal's six goals at Euro 2012, helping the team reach the semifinals. Ronaldo can pass, too, creating 28 chances this league season, five more than Messi and seven more than Iniesta.

Alex Morgan The 23-year-old first-time finalist led the United States with 28 goals, the third-best calendar-year total in U.S. history. She also had 21 assists, one shy of the American record, joining Mia Hamm as the only Americans with 20 goals and 20 assists in a calendar year. Morgan scored one of the most important and dramatic goals of 2012, heading in a 123rd-minute winner against Canada in the Olympic semifinals, for the latest goal in Olympic history.

Abby Wambach After finishing third in last year's voting, Wambach looks to be the first American to win since Mia Hamm in 2002. Her 27 goals in 2012 were her second-best calendar-year total and the fourth most ever by an American. She led the United States with five goals at the London Olympics, scoring in all five games from the group stage through the semifinals. Wambach ended 2012 with 152 career goals, six shy of Mia Hamm's international record.

Marta The Brazilian forward won five straight Women's Player of the Year awards from 2006 to 2010, before finishing runner-up to Homare Sawa last year. 2012 was not a vintage Marta campaign. Brazil was eliminated by Japan in the Olympic quarterfinals, and she scored twice in four games, with one of those goals a penalty. Marta had more success with her club team Tyreso, scoring 12 goals en route to winning the Swedish league title.