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Nov 29, 2012

Lionel Messi headlines FIFA finalists

SAO PAULO -- Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta are the finalists for FIFA's world player of the year award.

They were picked from a list of 23 candidates for this year's Ballon d'Or, with Messi looking to become the first player to win the award four times. The Argentina and Barcelona playmaker won the award the last three years.

"I think they are perfect picks. There is no doubt these players are among the best," said former Brazil great Ronaldo, a three-time award winner. "Messi and Ronaldo are really the only ones with a chance of winning, that's how it's been recently."

The winner will be announced in Switzerland on Jan. 7. The only other players to have won the FIFA award three times are Ronaldo and former France great Zinedine Zidane.

The finalists for the women's world player award are five-time winner Marta and America duo Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach.

They led the United States to its third straight Olympic gold medal in London. Wambach made the shortlist last year, finishing third in the voting.

"Women's football was at its best this year," FIFA President Sepp Blatter said, noting the record crowds attending the matches at the London Games.

Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque, former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola and Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho were in the running for the world coach of the year award. The women's coach of the year award nominees are France's Bruno Bini, Japan's Norio Sasaki and former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, who led the team to the gold at the 2012 Games.

The Puskas Award for the best goal of the year will be presented to Radamel Falcao, Neymar or Miroslav Stoch.

The 25-year-old Messi won his second Golden Boot award this year for scoring the most goals in Europe's domestic leagues last season. He has scored 82 goals this calendar year, putting him only three shy of Gerd Mueller's record.

Messi won last year's Ballon d'Or prize over Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored a team leading 46 goals last season for Real Madrid.

Cristiano Ronaldo -- the winner in 2008 -- was one of the six nominees from Real Madrid, along with Xabi Alonso, Karim Benzema, Iker Casillas, Mesut Oezil and Sergio Ramos. In addition to Messi and Iniesta, the 23-player list also included Barcelona players Xavi Hernandez, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets.

Iniesta finished second to Messi in the 2010 vote.

Seven Spain internationals made the 23-name list and all three in the shortlist play in the Spanish league.

"This shows how strong the football is in Spain, not only in the clubs but also the national team," FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said. "We have a very strong (Spanish) football system in place."

Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli and Brazil forward Neymar were also in the running. Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was the only English player on the list, while United teammate Robin van Persie also was a candidate after being the Premier League's leading scorer last season for Arsenal.

Juventus veteran Gianluigi Buffon was among the three goalkeepers in the list, along with Casillas and Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich.

Marta is looking for an unprecedented sixth award.

"It's a great honor to be in the running again," Marta said.

Neymar won the 2011 goal of the year award and is looking to retain the prize courtesy of his goal for Santos against Internacional on March 7, when he scored following a maze of dribbling from mid-field. Falcao is in the running for his overhead kick on May 19 in Atletico Madrid's game against America de Cali, while Stoch is in the final list for his superb hook shot from the edge of the box for Fenerbahce on March 3.

Voting is by national team coaches and captains, and journalists invited by co-organizer "France Football" magazine.

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