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Bender makes Ballon d'Or trip

Colchester United youngster Tom Bender will be a guest of FIFA at the 2011 Balon d'Or ceremony on Monday after being the only player from 20,000 polled to match the official team of 2010.

Bender, a 17-year-old defender on the books of the League One club, will meet the World XI at the ceremony, when he will rub shoulders with World Player of the Year nominees Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi.

A player who made his debut last season as a 16-year-old against Hartlepool United, becoming the club's second youngest-ever player, Bender has made only two substitute appearances in his career. He is a Wales Under-21 international despite being born in Harlow.

Bender told The Sun: "It is hard to believe, really. It was the first time I had done anything like this. I filled out the form in October - the first time I had done it. I didn't have a clue what I was doing. We did it in five or 10 minutes.

"I got the phone call on Tuesday. At first, I thought it was someone trying to wind me up. It wasn't until my mum said Paul Allen [PFA] had rang her to get my number that I believed it.

"You always dream about meeting these players. You see them on TV and read about them in the papers. To go to the awards and see them in the flesh will be pretty amazing."

He has been sworn to secrecy over his XI before the ceremony next week.

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