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Iniesta, Xavi and Messi nominated for Ballon d'Or

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Barcelona players Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Lionel Messi were the three nominees Monday for FIFA's "Ballon d'Or" award for the world player of the year.

Midfielders Iniesta and Xavi helped Spain win its first World Cup, while Argentina forward Messi led Barcelona to another Spanish title.

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  • Who is most deserving of the Player of the Year award?
    • Lionel Messi
    • Andres Iniesta
    • Xavi
    • Wesley Sneijder

Messi won the Ballon d'Or, or Golden Ball, award last year when France Football magazine chose the best player in Europe. The Golden Ball is being merged this year for the first time with FIFA's player of the year award to create one trophy.

"It's an honor to be among the three finalists for the Ballon d'Or, even more so since it's alongside Xavi and Leo," Iniesta wrote on his Facebook page. "A marvelous prize for our academy."

The inaugural coach of the year award is between Jose Mourinho - who won the Champions League and the domestic League and Cup double with Inter Milan - Spain's Vicente del Bosque and Barcelona's Pep Guardiola.

"Barca have made history with three homegrown players in the top three spots," the club said on its website.

AC Milan had all three players on the Golden Ball podium in successive years, but they didn't come through the youth ranks. Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard were 1-2-3 in 1988; followed by Van Basten, Franco Baresi and Rijkaard in 1989.

Baresi joined Milan when he was 17, while the Dutch trio of Van Basten, Rijkaard and Gullit were all imports.

The Spanish league had all three podium spots last year, with Messi winning and Xavi third while Real Madrid's Portugal winger, Cristiano Ronaldo, took second place.

The winners will be announced on Jan. 10.

"Barcelona are dominating the Spanish league at the moment," FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke said. "Not only is Spanish football dominating but Barcelona is as well. Spanish football has really been ahead since 2008."

Iniesta scored the winning goal against the Netherlands in this year's World Cup final, settling a tense and sometimes brutal match 1-0. He collected a cushioned pass from Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas and finished with a shot into the opposite corner just minutes from the end of extra time to avoid a penalty shootout.

Xavi was arguably Spain's best player at the tournament, linking superbly with Iniesta in a midfield that prided itself on one-touch passing coupled with exceptional movement off the ball.

Spain fielded a similar midfield when it won the European Championship two years ago, with several Barcelona players in both teams.

Messi was a disappointment at the World Cup, failing to replicate his club form. He did not manage a goal in South Africa, having scored 34 league goals heading into the tournament. Argentina lost 4-0 to Germany in the quarterfinals.

But Messi has continued his rich vein of form for Barcelona this season and already has 15 league goals from just 12 games.

"I think Leo deserves it, he's the best. But I also think they all deserve it for everything they did this year," Guardiola said. "Each one has his own peculiarities, (but) what matters in the end vote is what they generate."

Although he didn't score, Messi was the architect of Barcelona's 5-0 destruction of Mourinho's Madrid last week, when he showed another side to his game with some sublime passing to set up striker David Villa in the second half.

Guardiola's Barcelona is widely recognized as the benchmark for slick, attacking football, and his team has now scored 19 goals in the last four games without conceding.

Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti criticized the absence of playmaker Wesley Sneijder, who was instrumental in leading the club to a treble of titles last season and then helped the Netherlands reach the World Cup final.

"I find it very unfair. Sneijder had a phenomenal year and won everything that he could have. He deserved the Golden Ball," Moratti said. "It seems unfair to me that the award be given to someone who didn't have the same type of performance throughout the year, even if we're talking about a great player."

Sneijder has probably been penalized for Inter's poor start to this season, with the club lying in sixth place in Serie A ahead of Monday's Napoli-Palermo match.
 

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